Going, Going, Gone

Nothing’s more disheartening than falling in love with a band and then discovering they’re gone, unable or unwilling to keep slogging along. Maybe they know that when their heart’s been stomped too long and too hard by disinterest, it’s time to split, so they’ll still have a heart left.

Enough Doogie Howser philosophizing, but that’s how I suspect the Lucksmiths might have felt before they broke up two years ago. The strumming Australian popsters put out about a dozen albums during their 15 years. It’s a different story with Jon Hardy & the Public, who have put out several albums and several EPs since 2003. Hardy and band are still gamely at it, but don’t stray far from St. Louis. Would love to see them in person, but will have to be content with the CD, as the only thing worse than driving halfway across Kansas is to keep motoring I-70 all the way across Missouri.

THE LUCKSMITHS, Naturaliste (Drive In/Candle, 2003) — I’m not usually one for stuff this pretty and gentle. Hell, my negative-ass, opinionated self might have heard something like the Lucksmiths at one point and said, “What’s this wispy, navel-gazing crap?” But singing drummer Tali White and his bandmates, guitarist Marty Donald and bassist Mark Monnone, topple my misconceptions and biases.

White has a clear, beautiful voice that, fast or achingly slow, is winsome but not whiny. The songs, written by Donald and Monnone, are literate little pictures of life: The 27 minutes on “The Sandringham Line” train that remind of a relationship gone sour, the decision to skip work and spend a “Midweek Midmorning” with your love, the narrator’s confession that he’s “Camera Shy” while describing the pictures that prove it.

When the Lucksmiths race along, Donald’s guitar sounds like New Jersey’s strumming, jangling Feelies. Bass, upfront and clear, pushes songs along, and nice sonic and vocal touches are all over the place. A horn kicks “Stayaway Stars” up a notch, before the massed chorus flies in. The “ba-ba-bada-ba-ba goes the backing vocal, I’m trying not to be so anti-social” line of “There is a Boy Who Never Goes Out” is just one bit of clever wordplay. This is pop music that really pops. And it’s pretty, too. Maybe I’ll even listen to The Smiths one of these days …

You can hear “Camera Shy” and songs from other albums at myspace.com/lucksmiths.

JON HARDY & THE PUBLIC, Make Them Like Gold (self-released, 2004) — From the cutting, echoing electric guitar that opens “Grand Canyon Meltdown,” Hardy and crew make music as if their lives depended on it on Make Them Like Gold, their first album. His powerful vocals are right up front, and guitar, bass and drums each clearly stake their space. It’s dramatic, even melodramatic, but wholly convincing.

The sound is stark and echoing, country influenced but all rock. Lyrics are dark, cryptic, anthemic, biblical and bit of brimstone. Hardy’s lines burst out and grab:

  • “Mama there’s blood upon my hands and it ain’t mine. Mama I don’t know what I am, but it ain’t kind.” (“Grand Canyon Meltdown”)
  • “Here come the dogs of war. Hear them howl …” (“The Flood”)
  • And, “He’s going to know what it means to be the last man alive,” from “The King of Main Street,” where Hardy stretches the last three words until he pulls all the meaning he can from them, while picked guitar and bouncing bass provide just the right contrast.

Best of all is “Cassius Clay,” with its slow, churchy organ and Hardy and Rachel Huertas sharing the chorus of “Oh baby, I’m like Cassius Clay, but you’re the name that we all say.”. Couldn’t tell you whether it’s about Muhammad Ali, a troubled relationship or both, but vocally and instrumentally it combines for epic rock. Hardy must like it, too, because he recut it for his next CD, Working in Love. Maybe a road trip to St. Louis wouldn’t be so bad after all.

Hear Jon Hardy at myspace.com/jonhardy; download Make Them Like Gold and his others at iTunes and Amazon..

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