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An American Starlet - Sweet Country Lullabies

  by John Clarkson

published: 17 / 12 / 2001



An American Starlet - Sweet Country Lullabies
Label: Starlet
Format: CD

intro

While in part ironic, 'Sweet Country Lullabies...' is a deceptive title. The debut CD by An American Starlet is at one level very much a country album. Much of it also sounds very sweet. A few of its


While in part ironic, 'Sweet Country Lullabies...' is a deceptive title. The debut CD by An American Starlet is at one level very much a country album. Much of it also sounds very sweet. A few of its tracks could also be described as lullabies, but this name only paints a partial picture of an album , that is both bleak and majestic and which has been influenced as much as by fifties rock 'n' roll, sixties folk and nineties grunge as it has been by roots music. Ian Parks, the group's songwriter and principal member, comes from the same school of country and hard knocks as Ryan Adams and Gram Parsons, but his music has an essentially timeless feel and he has been equally inspired by Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan and Kurt Cobain. Parks has been one of the leading players on the San Francisco independent music scene for a decade. He first came to prominence with the Rosemarys, who formed in 1991, and , influenced by British space rock bands such as My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive, put out their first album 'Providence' on a local independent label Continuum Records in 1992. The album did well on college radio and the Rosemarys, starting to attract the interest of the majors, signed at the end of that year to Fox, a fledgling label which was owned by Rupert Murdoch under the canopy of the film company, Twentieth Century Fox. The band released a second album 'The Rosemarys', but with their deal with Fox deal turning sour, broke up to reform with a new singer under a new name, the Magnetic, in 1994. The Magnetic released a single album 'The Power of the Thomas', and, again running into difficulties with their next record label Facility Records, split up shortly afterwards. After the collapse of the Magnetic, a disillusioned Parks abandoned the music business all together for a few years, but eventually began recording again initially under the moniker of Starlet. When he found out that there was a Swedish band with the same name, he changed his new group's name to An American Starlet. 'Sweet Country Lullabies...' was recorded over an eight month period in the band's practice room, and has been released on Parks' own Starlet label. Parks, who both engineered and produced 'Sweet Country Lullabies..." , sings and also plays guitar, mandolin, fiddle, dobro, banjo and bass. The band has a floating membership and the album was recorded on an "ad hoc" basis, with whoever was available. All of An American Starlet's regular live group, Patrick Harte (drums), Scott Powers (bass), Scott Appleton (Pedal Steel) and Jared Matt Greenberg (Bass, Organ, Melotron and Wurlitzer Piano), however, make appearances, and Noah Appleton (Additional drums), Dominic Fasso (Organ), David Fox (Upright Bass) and Sophia Campbell and Maria Keagle (Starlet Vocals) are also too present. It is Keagle, a former member of the Brian Jonestown Massacre and now the frontwoman in her own group, Smallstone, who takes lead vocals on the opening number 'Sweet Country Lullaby'. The tune is soft and lilting, reflective and slow and starts simply with just the sound of a stylus hitting the record and then Parks' meandering guitar kicking in, but gradually builds in complexity as more instruments, drums, pedal steel and a warbling organ, are all added. Keagle's vocals are breathless and dreamy, yet are inflicted also with an underlying darkness. "He kissed me but I was just dreaming" she breezes. "So I'm gonna go to bed and rest my weary head/And make a wish I never wake up again." This aura of darkness stems throughout much of the rest of the album as well. The rugged-voiced Parks takes over lead vocals from the second song 'Wait' onwards. 'Wait' begins with the ricocheting, seesawing sound of a fiddle, and again slowly winding other instrumentation , further guitar and drums, into its mix, has a similar sense of desperation. "Would you mind if I was just to break down and cry ?/Even if I never told you why" Parks rasps mournfully, trying to hang together with a lover, but lacking the words and the means to do so. 'Simple Sad Song', the next song, meanwhile bounces little flurrying, rattling gusts of banjo against a swirling backdrop of both piano and guitar, and captures Parks' bedsit anguish after a relationship has collapsed and he listens to records that he once enjoyed listening to with his lover alone . While the first three songs have a country sound, 'Sweet Country Lullabies..." by its fourth track starts to change flavour. 'Know It Was Better', which features Parks alone on its guitar, is a sixties style protest song in the manner of Bob Dylan before he went electric, while the enigmatic and again acoustic 'Men of the Sea', which features Keagle and Parks on joint vocals, is reminiscent with its floating, ethereal vocal harmonies of both early Fairport Convention and Joni Mitchell, The transformation is completed by the sixth song, 'She's a Star', a grunge-induced number which has a souped, gloriously sludgy acoustic sound and bringing back memories of the 'Nirvana Unplugged' set, finds Parks intoxicated with love and bordering on the dangerous and obsessive. "If she's a star/I am the sky" he reflects. "If she's the truth/I am the lie/If she's repentance/I will pay/if she is whisky/Stay drunk all day." On the seventh song 'Love With You', the band swop genres again. A exercise in rock 'n' roll, it involves lots of snapping fingers, has a rumbling Eddie Cochran style three chord riff and a good-humoured boy-falls-in-love-with-girl lyric, all of which make it by far the lightest song on the album. 'Why Are You Alone Tonight ?' is, meanwhile, An American Starlet's 'Are You Lonesome Tonight ?' A tender, wistful ballad, it is the sort of song the young Elvis or a vulnerable boy crooner such as Marty Wilde or Terry Dene might have made in the late fifties or early sixties. As the album moves towards its conclusion, it develops a country sound again. The epic ninth track 'Softly Tomorrow' clocks in at over six minutes, and, about a relationship winding to an end, begins with Parks singing softly against the gentle backdrop of an organ, but then builds up tempo again to become another full band number. The tenth and penultimate number 'Waltzing to 12' is also about the collapse of a romance, this time with a younger woman and uses a mandolin as its main instrument. "She was everything I wanted to be/Young and wild and still free " Parks confesses, summing up in a moment everything that has gone wrong with the love affair. The last track 'Plan Field Station' meanwhile is an instrumental. A jigging barn dance waltz, it is the most traditionally country of all the songs on the album and brings the album to a frenzied, breathless and affirmative conclusion. Not at all then, other than its first and last moments what might have been expected, 'Sweet Country Lullabies...' is one of the unsung and understated masterpieces of the year. Recorded on no budget, but with the time, energy and sheer will to get it right, it is a challenging, powerful and rewarding experience. Enterprising, dynamic and far more versatile than its ironic choice of name implies, it is one of the small alternative rock releases of the year and deserves an enthusiastic audience. More information about An American Starlet can be found at the band's website www.starletsweb.com.



Track Listing:-
1 Sweet Country Lullaby
2 Wait
3 Simple Sad Song
4 Know It Was Better
5 Men Of The Sea
6 She's A Star
7 Love With You
8 Why Are You Alone Tonight
9 Softy Tomorrow
10 Waltzing To 12
11 Plain Field Station



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Interview (2002)
An American Starlet - Interview
An American Starlet is a new act from San Francisco, which has recently self- released its debut album 'Sweet Country Lullabies from An American Starlet' on its own Starletsweb label. The group, which was born out of the ashes of two other Bay Area band


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