The Union Electric - The Union Electric 7"
Record Label: Self-released
Release Date: Jan. 4, 2010
The Union Electric are an alternative country quartet based out of St. Louis, inspired by the likes of Nick Drake and Whiskeytown. This three-song, self-titled 7-inch is their debut record.
How is it?
Eh. So-so. For starters, alternative country is not a hard genre to imitate. Take a lap steel, a dobro and a fiddle and sing songs about grain silos, whiskey binges and blue-collar jobs. If this sounds entirely too simple, that's because it is. Ever cognizant of this, the contemporary musical landscape features hordes of musicians that are gravitating towards alterna-country, in the hopes of emulating the commercial successes of Son Volt, Wilco and the Old 97s.
The St. Louis band The Union Electric have the benefit of a great name, a good location (St. Louis, occasional home of Son Volt's Jay Farrar) and a keen conscience for the days of yore, evidenced in their decision to release a 7-inch over a CD.
But all that being said this self-titled leaves a lot to be desired. Whether it is a product of poor studio decisions or just the band's relative youth, this disc feels entirely amateur and green. Opener "Sentence," is raucous, reckless and wanton, neither one of which serves the song well. With a buzzing energy that recalls My Bloody Valentine, "Sentence," sounds like a band trying too hard. Writing a herky-jerky rocker is a noble task, but having it sound this awkward and forced is a tremendous mistake. If the song does deserve praise it is for Rakel's ability to move past the mundane. In an interview with the Riverfront Times, he has admitted that the song borrows its lyrics from the courtroom testimony of Louis Lingg, an immigrant accused of being one of Chicago's 1886 haymarket bombers. Hank WIlliams, eat your heart out.
On the second cut "You've Been Served," the quartet takes a step forward but still lacks the crisp polish of a band that deserves libations. The song's droning guitars marry well with vocalist Tim Rakel's corn-fed vocals, but the exercise still feels a bit slippery. The exercise's peak is represented in its lyrics, in which Rakel sings, "The new standard of an honest man is one who stays bought after you've paid him."
On the 7-inch's b-side comes the vinyl's best song, a dramatic epic named "Ship Out of Luck," which has the bristling details of a narrative and is both cinematic and startling. Rakel has admitted that the song originates from "The Mermaid Song," by Bascom Lamar Lunsford, which appeared on Harry Smith's folk anthologies. That kind of attention to history seems to be the jumping off point for this band's future. The wheels are most certainly in place for The Union Electric to do big things. With better production, more expert precision and a bit more seasoning, this may be a band to stir up sleepy St. Louis. As it stands now though, this isn't entirely worth the price of eggs.