Memphis is one those American cities where music seems to ooze from it very pores. As in New Orleans or Austin, it's part of everyday life, and because of that, diverse styles coexist and collide, and musicians retain a respect for music history that's often shunned in this land of short attention spans. I first heard the music of John Paul Keith
a few years ago when he released his second album, The Man That Time Forgot
(Big Legal Mess), and I was instantly taken by its familiarity. Keith's songs kept reminding me of others, but his nonchalant mix of raunchy rock 'n' roll, blue-eyed soul, power pop, garage rock, and Brill Building songcraft, among other ingredients, was so effective and well played I didn't care. Last month he released another killer album in Memphis Circa 3 AM
, which was produced by Roland James, a one-time house guitarist at Sun Studios going back to the 50s. The new record shows a deep investment in melody, stripped-down grooves, and soulful singing, but it doesn't suggest a fetish for the past. In fact, while Keith hasn't altered his formula in any way, this batch of songs is stronger than ever—though they still seem familiar, they don't sound like he swiped them from anywhere. If he reminds me of anyone at all, it's probably Nashville's Paul Burch, especially his voice, although Keith is definitely more a traditionalist. There are many golden moments—the southern soul of the infectious "New Year's Eve," which benefits from some twangy guitar that seems to be played through a Magnatone amp, the two-beat honky-tonk of "There's a Heartache Going 'Round," the brainy pop of "She's Almost You," which sounds like something Elvis Costello might've written in the late 70s. Below you can check out another great song: "Everything's Different Now" is today's 12 O'Clock Track. You can hear it after the jump.
Keith plays Saturday at the Red Line Tap.