If the powerful intimacy of the Tarlatans’ first album was a wakeup call for South Carolina music listeners, then their latest EP, “Good Luck”, is a veritable air raid siren. Stylistically, the Clemson to Charleston transplants haven’t moved too far around; the band still plays Americana with a capital A. The difference sits in the superior recording and production, courtesy of producer (and band inspiration) Jay Clifford (Jump, Little Children) and some great work done at Hello Telescope and Charleston Sound. The complementary voices of singer/song-writer/guitarists Taylor McCleskey and Ryan Williams weave in and out of each others way, trading or sharing verses like they always have, but the polished punch will knock you right out with its new radio-ready sheen. Bassist Eric Mixon and drummer Blake Shorter are also more in your face and the whole record smokes, even when it’s being low-key. As always, the Tarlatans (named after the colorful, yet messy rag used to clean off wood prints) employ the weapons of excellent songwriting and great vocals to get their point across and two of the six songs on the EP are rerecorded versions of some of the bands’ superior older songs.
EP opener “As Long as You’re Happy” highlights the Tarlatans signature style: Americana with a strong pop sensibility and the trademark traded vocal lines. The mode seems instantly familiar, yet the band always puts their own, unique stamp on the sound. “Before I See Her Eyes” is straight-ahead ‘80s style roots rock. It’s built with a strong driving feel and a perfect chorus that gives it a timeless sensation – this could be big on the radio thirty years ago or tomorrow, no problem. The band tools it back a notch in the intensity department for “Fancy Things”, which aims for a laid back pop/ rock feel with the ubiquitous great vocal lines. “Been Dreamin’” is the first of the reworked songs here. The updated version on this EP has been getting some airplay and rightly so; while the emotional rapport developed in the original is still there, the whole has been pared down to its essential components, making it more effective and effecting. When the line “If I’m dreamin’/ I’m missing right now” hits, the Tarlatans have got you in their palms. As the song ends with harmonicas floating in the background, one can’t help but marvel at the bands’ propensity for writing catchy material. Speaking of harmonicas, the next song “Home Sounds Fine to Me”, gets the added luxury of guest harp work from none other than Garrett Dutton (AKA G. Love of G. Love and Special Sauce). He burns it up with some live tracking and the two singers trade verses and then combine vocals at the end for a powerful tune. The title track is another older song which gets a nice tweaking in its new form. Shortened, but still sparse with lots of moments of space to heighten its gravity, it’s a heavy goodbye song (“They say a picture’s worth a thousand words/ But what about an empty frame?”) that leaves the listener swayed by its close.
With “Good Luck”, the Tarlatans appear to have taken it to the next level. A grown-up sound- fresh, updated and professional as anything out there right now makes them a band to watch. Go catch them now while they still play South Carolina all the time; it might not be long before they are traveling much further, more often. We wish them Good Luck.
Recommended if you like: The Avett Brothers, The Lumineers, Ryan Adams
Sean Knight is a native South Carolinian who has spent his life bouncing back and forth between SC and Texas, playing in bands you probably never heard of in both states and stinking up open-mic nights in the Low Country for many years. He plays, collects, listens to and probably spends too much of his life obsessing over music.