Let’s say that you’ve finally picked up that classic Dylan album that you’ve always read about. Or maybe you’ve lucked out at your favorite secondhand store and scored yourself a mint copy of some vintage Van Morrison record or Elvis’ Sun Sessions. Those pieces of art define a space and time. Musically. Lyrically. Emotionally. Insta-memories.
Luckily, Marah knows exactly where you’re coming from. Signed to Steve Earle’s E Squared imprint, Kids in Philly is Marah’s second effort (the band released a self-financed record back in ’99). It’s the kind of record that is so effortless, so authentic and so exquisitely arranged that you’ll want to selfishly keep it all to yourself. And yet, at the same time, you’ll wanna tell the world about it.
Never obvious, Kids In Philly is a geographic blueprint to Marah’s backyard. Although loaded with references, you won’t be calling it a throwback. Nor does it steal from its forefathers. Playing to the strength of its modern-day production allows for the band members to stretch out and crystallize a sound that they’ve spent their whole lives learning from. Singer Dave Bielanko struggles to find purpose, as the "old train tracks littered with crushed beer cans, broken bottles, broken souls and old car tires" paint a picture on a canvas tarnished by whiskey stains.
Kids In Philly features a treasure chest worth of good material. With Bielanko’s mandolin kicking off "Barstool Boys," it’ll come as little surprise to think that it could have been an outtake from another great record, Rod Stewart’s Every Picture Tells a Story. For the first time in forever, sightings of Springsteen’s early work are also in order. On "It’s Only Money Tyrone," Bielanko spins a lost tale of stolen cars and shipwrecks. Like in some of the finer moments on Springsteen’s Greetings from Asbury Park, Bielanko invokes the spirit of Dylan — a stream-of-consciousness approach that is firmly grounded in reality. Other gems include "Christian Street," a glorious romp through Exile on Main Street heaven replete with horns and "c’mon, c’mon" shout-outs.
Marah’s vision is a refreshing burst of air in today’s disposable pop reality. The revelatory Kids In Philly will undoubtedly end up on a lot of folks’ best of 2000 lists.
John Franck writes about music for the Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.