Owning the Old Mill sound

I haven't been overly enamored of local alt-country bands. The New Westerns had a nice sound, but spotty vocals, and suffer from occasional self-indulgence. Instant Hobo won points for being hobo-themed, but didn't take the motif far enough, and their record seemed a little sloppy.

As a long-time alt-country fan, and considering the Valley's reputation for spawning country-tinged pop-rock bands, it's been a little disappointing. Until now, that is. Tractor Pull Divas' Love Songs for (Insert Your Name Here) is a superb EP that's a worthy heir to those oddly-divisive Mill Avenue bands of yore. So if you hate Roger Clyne and the Gin Blossoms, just move along, as there's nothing for you here. If you're ready to read about a band that's embraced the sound of the desert, and isn't afraid of a little jangle in their guitars, this is it.

Well, maybe "embraced" is the wrong word for it. Unfortunately, the band's MySpace suggests they're harboring the delusion that they're on to something truly different:

With band members who have shared the stage with everyone from Bo Diddley and Ricky Skaggs to modern rockers such as Switchfoot and Third Eye Blind, you'd expect Tractor Pull Divas to be anything but ordinary. You'd be right. Mixing the musical and instrumental elements of bluegrass and americana into the accessibility and energy of the best of modern rock anthems, Tractor Pull Divas has landed upon a sound which is truly their own. A sound they have affectionately titled "new school americana."

Riiiight. The sound isn't their own, though the TPD is, at times, bluegrassier than most of their Arizona brethren, which qualifies as a slight departure. All of that aside, while the Divas aren't doing anything new, they do what they do very well.

"Impressed" has a hefty dose of Old 97's-style college rock-type country, from the simple, mildly-dejected lyrics ("I'm so tired of being tired of being sick and tired/motivated by what's uninspired/you think you know what's best for me but you don't know nothing it's plain to see") to the way the vocals play off a nice little banjo line that pops in beside the acoustic guitar. "If You See Her," is the record's most upbeat number, with truly gorgeous vocal harmonies and a nice layered collection of strums and picks. "Middle" is the ballad, and drags a little through a typically emotional singer-songwriter style opening before finding it's footing a few minutes in.

Though their sound isn't as original as they might like to claim on MySpace -- and I think anyone could agree it certainly doesn't necessitate the creation of a unique genre for an accurate description -- the Tractor Pull Divas are a great band and Love Songs for (Insert Your Name Here) is a competent, well-produced and thoroughly enjoyable EP.

They've got the sound, they've got the songs. Now, they've just gotta own that Old Mill identity.

Sat., Feb. 7, 2009
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Martin Cizmar
Contact: Martin Cizmar