The Legal Matters – The Legal Matters [TrackList follows] – Futureman/ Blunk Street Music FM-001, 35:16 (Distr. by MVD) [6/3/14] ***1/2:
(Andy Reed – bass, vocals, engineer, mixer, mastering; Chris Richards – vocals, guitar; Keith Klingensmith – vocals, guitar; Josh Allen – acoustic and electric bass; Cody Marecek – drums (tracks 1-7, 9-10); Nick Piunti – electric guitar (tracks 1-2, 4, 6))
It is ironic indie pop/power pop trio the Legal Matters dubbed themselves after the Who’s 1965 song “A Legal Matter.” That is because the Michigan-based threesome’s debut doesn’t mimic or ape the Who’s early Mod style. Obvious links to England’s first wave of rock music are to the Kinks and to a smaller degree the Beatles, as well as ‘90s indie pop groups such as Velvet Crush, the Posies and likeminded acts. Anyone hoping for soaring, Cheap Trick-like guitar hooks, hefty drums or churning riffs might be surprised by the nuanced songwriting (all originals), mostly mid-tempo arrangements and less-is-more approach; think of the Raspberries or Badfinger. The 10 tracks, which total 35 minutes, reflect the first and second eras of guitar pop mated with contemporary, mid-budget production procedures. The result is material with hummable choruses, infectious harmonies, and appetizing pop music which ought to be all over the radio but never will be.
Andy Reed, Chris Richards and Keith Klingensmith came together in 2013 and recorded at Reed’s studio (Reed Recording Company) and earlier this year issued their self-titled album via Klingensmith’s label, Futureman Records, as a digital download, on compact disc and as 180-gram vinyl. This review refers to the CD version. Softer songs are reminiscent of ‘70s pop artists and have a late summer impression which belies that the music was taped during a brutal winter. The acoustic-tinged “Mary Anne” showcases the trio’s genteel harmony vocals and underscored sonic detailing. The straightforward lyrics about how relationships can go from good to bad is smoothly highlighted by acoustic piano, subtle electric guitar and guest drummer Cody Marecek’s precise drumming. “So Long Sunny Days” has a soft-rock tone akin to tunesmiths such as Bread, England Dan & John Ford Coley or Pure Prairie League. And a whiff of the Eagles (pre-Joe Walsh) wafts through the winning, acoustic-accented “Have You Changed Your Mind?,” one of several songs about the shakier elements which can occasionally darken a couple’s long-time connection.
Clearly, these guys know their indie/power pop influences. Upbeat opener, “Rite of Spring” has a Big Star meets the Velvet Crush feel. Ringing guitars, a punchy backbeat and a pulsating keyboard undercurrent provide a glorious, mid-‘60s crossed with a mid-‘90s mannerism. It’s a head-nodding number with a chorus which imbeds in the brain and won’t let go. One reason this tune isn’t a hit is because this is a small, independent release, and probably won’t be noticed by those who need or should hear it. “The Legend of Walter Wright” is the closest the band gets to rocking up their amps, with a musical sweep comparable to the Fab Four’s Rubber Soul period, while the third-person narrative—about one man’s imagination taking over reality—is more similar to Ray Davies’ best work. The only component which mars this album is Reed’s sometimes somber lyrics about a couple’s possible or impending dissolution: will they solve their problems or become single again? It’s a minor critique, but puts a subdued coloring to some music. Overall, though, the Legal Matters have crafted an earnest and very fine addition to the indie pop clique which bodes well for both the band’s prospects and the independent music scene in general.
TrackList: Rite of Spring; Stubborn; Have You Changed Your Mind?; The Legend of Walter Wright; Mary Anne; It’s Not What I Say; Before We Get It Right; So Long Sunny Days; Outer Space; We Were Enemies.