For me, unexpectedly discovering a new band is akin to getting a single onion ring in your fries or finding a forgotten sawbuck in a coat you haven't worn since the previous winter. It's windfall to be sure, but it makes you want to believe there's more where that one came from. Sadly, there are a lot more renegade onion rings out there, than stray money or new bands worth your attention. Given this, I was practically giddy (for me, at least) to stumble upon Milwaukee's The Championship sandwiched on a local bill this past weekend.
Even in its current state, I remain a staunch supporter of the Twin Cities' music scene, so I've been more than a little alarmed at the recent outpouring of top shelf artists from The Dairy State. We've been getting by on reputation alone for far too long, and suddenly guys like Justin Vernon and Eric Rykal have our local combos looking over their shoulders at all times.
It's bad enough they have The Sausage Race (how long before some Milwaukee punks form The Randall Simon Incident?) and we can't get Paul Bunyan's Axe back, and now Wisconsin rubbing my nose in The Championship. My visceral reaction was that they were working the same side of the street as The National (another band with a puzzling handle given their genre of choice) and ambling toward the My Morning Jacket corner. Their performance was tight, but never felt perfunctory, thanks to arrangements that accommodated ragged edges and improvisatory jags with open arms. Singer/guitarist Joe Crockett remains firmly rooted at the center of the maelstrom with a voice that absolutely demands your attention. It hardly seems possible that his petite body is capable of putting forth such emanations. Remember the first time you actually saw Rick Astley after hearing his songs? It's like that, but in a good way.
"After seeing The Championship's dynamic live show, which drew heavily from their forthcoming Moving At The Speed Of Darkness EP, their 2008 full-length, Midnight Golden (get both from Bear Rifle Records, is a decidedly more subdued, but no less impressive, affair. The band's country leanings are more evident, with mandolins and steel guitars embellishing taunt, melancholy vignettes of working class existence. Struggle, with bible, bottle and broads abounds in songs that clearly echo the best work of gentlemen like Mssrs. Alvin, Yoakam and Springsteen. Opener Ferris Wheel plainly attests that Crockett, even at his young age, has a talent for tapping into (with apologies to Thoreau) the "quiet desperation" of contemporary Midwestern living. From the neo-AM leanings of Gladstone (which suggests that Crockett may be secret lovechild of Waylon Jennings and Brett Sparks) to the roadhouse swagger of Diamond Rings, there's more than a little to like here. Sure, there's nothing earth shattering on Midnight Golden, but as was the case with The Gaslight Anthem's The '59 Sound, it's all done so well that it's easy to forgive the occasional hackneyed misstep. Furthermore, clocking in at a taut 38 minutes, it's almost impossible not to say, "Let's hear that again."
My Old Kentucky Blog - June, 2009
released 04 March 2008
Joe Crockett (Vocals, guitar, piano)
Jordan Burich (Guitar)
Allen Cote (Lapsteel, guitar, harmony vocals)
John Crockett (Bass)
Travis Doar (Drums)
Dana Pasko (Harmony Vocals)
All songs written, recorded, and produced by The Championship
Mastered by Trevor Sadler at Mastermind Productions, Milwaukee, WI
Photography by Joe Crockett and Corey Hengen
Layout and design by Keith Negley