No band captures the quiet angst of straddling hope and defeat quite the same way that Blanche does. And no band can make you smile quite as broadly when delivering all that heartbreak, mistrust and busted dreams while dressed in its Sunday best. Under the guise of playing Depression-era country blues, the band's principals — the husband-and-wife team of Dan and Tracee Miller — pen quirky hymns about the flattened ambitions of people who moved to Detroit for a better life, looking to all that shiny newness for answers that never quite came, trusting in something that was never quite delivered. As they sing on "I'm Sure of It": There has to be a cure ... /But, then again, maybe not. Sigh.
The thing is, this album isn't a downer. Mrs. Miller steps up to assume most vocal duties (sweetly, softly), with Mr. Miller (wide-mouthed, brow-glistening) giving the songs a sorta Johnny and June quality. It's that spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down. And 20/20 hindsight has never sounded so satisfying as a result. "Last Year's Leaves" and "A Year From Now" celebrate the pyrrhic victory of knowing time will heal most wounds, even if it just makes them easier to forget in reality. Better still, the Millers and company deliver it with the belief that it's actually a good chorus that can really heal all wounds. "A Year From Now," meanwhile, is vintage AM pop greatness. Throw in a mandolin-version of the Stones "Child of the Moon" and the positively Appalachian "Death Where Is Thy Sting" (the latter penned and sung by also-Raconteur Jack Lawrence), and Little Amber Bottles shows it has real heart beneath its stiff upper lip. It's also more than a little obvious on the album coda, "The World I Used to be Afraid Of," which shows all the melodrama has not been for naught. Arcade Fire can be the Dustbowl New Order all they want. Doesn't matter 'cause Blanche is the rusted Rust Belt Joy Division ... and God love 'em for it.
Hobey Echlin writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].
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