For the last few weeks I’ve been discussing an interesting trio of electronica LPs I’ve received, and now I’ve got an interesting trio of Americana albums in the review pile. The first entry was that sprawling 2-LP set from The Sam Chase & the Untraditional, and now we have All the Real Girls and their new LP Movie Star Handsome. Unlike Sam Chase’s epic saga, this is a straightforward album that focuses more on songwriting than grandeur–you get a tight band that sounds they’ve been playing rock and roll for most of their careers and then heard something that made them want to explore the country side of things. In fact, All the Real Girls will remind you of California in the ’70s when Gram Parsons was running around and touching everything and turning it into gold.
That, of course, is not a bad thing. All the Real Girls are based in Seattle, not SoCal, and they’re the simplest of classic rock quartets: Peter Donovan on rhythm guitar and vocals, Matt Millen on drums, Zander Nevitt on lead guitar and Evan West on bass. As I’ve already emphasized, they play the type of folk/Americana/country/rock that reaches across the room and pulls you into a new circle of friends, one that informs you that even though you might not like the genre as a whole, you’ll like this because it’s informed by a genre that you love. (For me, that’s why I glommed onto Lucinda Williams‘ music so quickly back in 1998, when Car Wheels on a Gravel Road came out.)
I won’t place that much pressure on All the Real Girls. They’re not as poetic or enigmatic as Lu, but they’re earnest and smart and Peter Donovan writes some very compelling lyrics. They’re not even limited to basic rock quartet sounds since Movie Star Handsome is one of those albums that includes a huge list of guest musicians who play trumpets, saxes, accordions, pedal steel guitars, keyboards and even a glockenspiel. By adding to the palette, the group is able to make each song distinctive without losing contact with their core sound.
The core of All the Real Girls, of course, is Peter Donovan and his unpretentious yet charming vocals. We all know why the singer-songwriter milieu is so attractive to music lovers–it’s one person delivering a statement that comes from within. (I don’t know about you, but I’m still a little put off by the fact that Elton John writes none of the words that he’s singing.) Donovan isn’t trying to bring this genre to a whole new level like Lu or Emmylou or Gram did, but he makes a compelling case for you to come over by him, sit down, and listen to a few stories. Good stories, too.