Preview, Interview and Album Review: Dear Bo Jackson by The Weeks (Bottletree 05/15/13)

The Weeks perform tomorrow night at Bottletree Cafe.

The Weeks perform tomorrow night at Bottletree Cafe.

Bo Jackson can’t play guitar. At least, Bo Diddly didn’t think so. If you know the commercial I’m referencing, then you’re probably over 30 or a die-hard Auburn fan. And that is what is so bizarre about an under 25, self-proclaimed Alabama fan naming his band’s album in honor of Bo Jackson. “Everyone on my mother’s side is an Auburn fan” says Sam Williams, guitarist and songwriter behind the southern indie rock outfit The Weeks. “There’s one person you don’t talk shit about, and that’s Bo Jackson.”  Despite his allegiances to the Tide, Williams views Jackson as a model of self-reliance. “Bo Jackson did whatever he wanted to do. He didn’t care if you liked it or not.”

On Dear Bo Jackson, The Weeks attempt to channel Bo’s independent spirit. “We don’t wanna be just a rock band” says Williams, “We’ve been listening to a lot of soul, R&B, country…[we] just wanna be able to do whatever we want to do.” The Weeks certainly do a number of things differently on Dear Bo Jackson, their most ambitious and polished record to date. The Weeks cut previous albums and EPs almost entirely live and in usually no more than 5 days. Those recordings essentially documented their live sound. This time was different — The Weeks now find themselves in the emerging Nashville rock scene. “This record was a lot more about expanding the arrangements,” Williams says. “Here in Nashville, all of our friends are musicians so we decided not to [record] the same way we always do.” Consequently, Dear Bo Jackson features an elaborate array of horns, piano, organ, backup vocals and even pedal steel.

Having previously established themselves as a southern rock/pop group, the production and arrangements on Dear Bo Jackson are truly new territory for The Weeks. While retaining their pop sensibility, the influence of country and soul shine through on this album like never before. Although the opening title track is more akin to their previous work, the album begins to showcase their new sound on “Brother in the Night,” a swampy, feel-good funk tune reminiscent of The Band or CCR. Lyrically, vocalist Cyle Barnes wears his southern heritage on his sleeve. Chants of “My southern heart” and “cicadas” serve as a frequent reminder The Weeks have only recently departed from Mississippi. Though The Weeks never had much of a country sound on previous releases, the pedal steel on “King Sized Death Bed” and honky-tonk piano on “Ain’t My Stop” are indicative of the band’s relocation to Nashville. The track “Bad Enough” continues in this direction, combining the feel of a sentimental country-western ballad with a touch of doo-wop. The song is further distinguished by its darker bridge, a rarity for The Weeks.

The height of the album occurs on tracks six through eight, where The Weeks really begin to show their growth as artists. “White Ash” has a solid groove, interesting rhythmic variations, and captivating guitar work. The atmospheric ballad “Gobi Blues” follows, demonstrating The Weeks advancements in the studio, manifested in delicately swirling pedal steel guitar and heavily effected drums. The song climaxes with the bridge, featuring a balanced mix of simultaneous dulcimer, horns and pedal steel. “Thief in My Mouth” is a more alternative cut, featuring a soulful melody and acoustic guitars that would make Billy Corgan proud.

The album maintains its course with the catchy “Harlots Bluff”. “Chickahominy” is another slower ballad, featuring new arrangements including mallet percussion. The percussion, coupled with sparse melodic guitar, could almost pass for Tortoise if the vocals were stripped away. The band kicks in full-force for a final gratuitous rock out, though they wisely keep it brief.  The final track “Who Is I,” with its triumphant gospel chorus, is a fitting capstone to the album.

Overall, Dear Bo Jackson is a solid release for The Weeks. They’ve matured musically, both as songwriters and in the studio. It’s not a perfect album, but it shows these young musicians have a promising future. This is their first release on Serpent & Snakes, a Nashville-based label owned and operated by the Kings of Leon. The Weeks will be joining KoL at the Hangout Music Festival in Gulf Shores as well as on an arena tour across Europe. Their musical likeness to the Kings should gain them a strong following across the pond. Williams describes the band’s relationship with the older rockers as largely positive. The Kings lent them a hand in the studio on a number of occasions, including detailed notes on the track order for Dear Bo Jackson.

It will be interesting to see how the new material with all of its studio sophistication is delivered live. The Weeks have a reputation for sweaty, debaucherous performances – Paste magazine included The Weeks in their top 25 acts at this year’s South By South West. The boys will be playing Bottletree this Wednesday, one of Williams’ favorite clubs in the entire country. In fact, Williams has a history in Birmingham. He lived here for a portion of his young life and his father currently resides in the Highland Park area. Williams recalls that some of the most formative musical moments of his adolescence occurred at all ages shows at the now defunct Cave 9. “I love Birmingham,” Williams says, “I may make my final residence there.” It won’t exactly be a hometown show, but The Weeks should bring plenty of rowdy, youthful energy to the stage.

The Weeks will perform at Bottletree on Wednesday, May 15th at 9pm and at the Hangout Music Festival in Gulf Shores, AL on Friday, May 17th at 5pm on the BMI Stage. For more information on The Weeks, visit http://theweeksmusic.tumblr.com/

About Linton Wright

Linton Wright is a contributing writer to You Hear This, and works at the Alys Stephens Center. He is the drummer in Form Constant, a Birmingham based psychedelic rock/electronic band.

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