The Valley Planet
Volume 4, Issue 17
Posted: April 2, 2007

Huntsville, Alabama's wonderful Toy Shop grabs one's audio browser, hijacks the navigation system and launches listeners onto a web of wit and wonder where flashes of a familiar strain or style influence are merely the smoke and mirrors of a magic show, while the real business takes place beyond precedence on GET UP NOW, the band's first label release for Rockin' Camel Records.

It's a good thing the audience's joy is captured here, lest all be left doubting whether such a clear, uncluttered ensemble palate with deceptively effortless vocals could really be a live recording, but Johnny Sandlin's name on the producer's billing---with expert aid from Jeremy Stephens manning state-of-the-art engineering consoles at Gadsden, Alabama's 2nd Street Music Hall and behind Duck Tape Studio's platinum walls---reminds us of why this is possible since Johnny's work with the Allman Brothers Band, Delbert McClinton, Cowboy and Widespread Panic---among a host of notables---are rightfully regarded as legendary. The venue itself has to be among the most perfect places of its size in the US to listen to live music.

Jim Kolacek's kick drum leads Andrew Sharpe's tremolo-watered electric piano into the cut-time intro of Three Flies, which is replaced after the first-verse-flirt with rockabilly by a full-out, harmonized and hook-laden chorus that would be the envy of all the CMT/GAC inflatable celebrity dolls if they only came equipped with ears. If this weren't enough, Antony Sharpe runs a range of intuitive guitar that shifts seamlessly among blendings with his brother's piano while both are busy, and clean, Memphis poultry-picking into outbursts that must drive his guitar tech to the cellphone backstage, searching out a local supplier of new amplifier tubes.

After a couple of tunes, one becomes conditioned to being ambushed by the self-depreciating yet sly social consciousness of Andrew Sharpe's lyrics, handsomely handwritten in the album's generous 24-page booklet that bears the drawings and cover paintings of---yes, Andrew Sharpe. View the paintings, hear the piano, read the lyrics---and you, too, will wonder who was lobbying God that day for this benefit package when it's readily apparent that a full-time career could be made with any one of them.

If the flies were merely annoying, Bed Bugs darkens the proceedings with an examination of the redundant recycling of some bad news aboard a motif that must have slept with Donald Fagan at least once. Sharpe's piano varies between a comforting background timber and---following a tasty Kolacek interlude and a very nice ensemble solo that puts Matt Ross' left-handed bass in the driver's seat---a wobbling organ solo that makes one wonder what happened to those Manfred Mann Chapter III records. Interrupted Dream is a brief instrumental that waltzes the unsuspecting crowd into chaos before the powerful opening chords of Knock On My Door restore order with its redemptive storyline beautifully partitioned by a floating interlude featuring the articulate Ross' echoed bass solo. Knock is certainly among the most dynamic arrangements on GET UP NOW.

The Sharpe brothers blend slide guitar and grand piano in sections of Parking Lot that cause a vision of a swaying mass of people being emboldened by this elegantly sung witness to loneliness that is almost too rich to be contained by 2nd Street and begs an amphitheater for the Sharpe/Sharpe/Kolacek vocal choruses. The most obvious clues to Antony and Andrew's British birthrights are heard in Long Long Time, which would have been right at home on any of the Beatles' post-Pepper albums with its chord progression and jaunty cut-time chorus and the recurring realization/redemption lyric-play that accelerates joyfully until the opening motif returns and quietly parks the piece. However, installing young Brits into post-seventies Alabama results in Antony's riotous plea to a neighbor in Crack, a true story (yes, he got his guitars back) that brings down the house with all hands being way too busy to wag fingers in anyone's face. Antony's guitar work on Crack is reason enough to steal this disc. Following Emily, an engaging invitation to escape enforced reality into a sweetly esteemed past, is the only non-original composition on the album, Tom Waits' Walking Spanish in which, perhaps, the aforementioned crackster is allowed an attempt to redeem himself poetically, but Antony takes him out with a savage blues guitar solo. Blues tonality lingers in the funky and all-too-brief Cave Cricket with a tight Ross/Kolacek ostinato driving Andrew's piano through tumbling arpeggios before the band shuts it down with an orchestrated one-off tag.

At this juncture, the battle for Supreme Anthem is on between Knock On The Door and Get Up Now, a time-dissolving feminine solar portrait so enriched in hope as to risk keeping folks home from church just to watch shadows walk the lawn. The band reaches into Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section territory here while Andrew takes his piano over the top in his sweatiest solo of the disc. Then the tight grip is suddenly released, loosing the prophetic suite-like Train that explores atonal, funk and post-bop zip codes before propelling the guitar into a high-flying and fearless excursion, closed out by a harmoniously adventurous vocal ensemble. After Train's fireworks comes a ballad, Time Machine, written by both Sharpes that gently puts down the landing gear, closing out an album that has managed to be all over the map without ever becoming scattered. A nifty feat, this---and much enabled by Sandlin's gentle hand on the reins that avoids what would be too much while giving each instrument, each voice a museum-grade frame that invites the ear back, again and again.

By: Dave Gallaher