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Dylan Sires and Neighbors:
by George Graham
(American Showplace Records As broadcast on WVIA-FM 1/7/2015)
For many decades, there have been musical styles associated with particular regions or cities. Think Nashville, New Orleans or Memphis. Of course, with the proliferation of everything from vinyl records to virtual performances via the Internet, erasing the geographical restraints that helped to establish those indigenous styles in the first place, one is likely to hear just about any style coming from just about anywhere, regardless of the previous association of that sound. This week we have a good example, a recording by an Iowa-based rock trio who are steeped in the 1960s British invasion sounds especially the Beatles. They make an album that sounds true without being slavishly imitative. The group is called Dylan Sires and Neighbors, and they have released an eponymous compilation of most of the music from two CDs they made in 2013, two thirds of a planned trilogy. The compilation is appropriately called Dylan Sires and Neighbors.
The group is from Waterloo, Iowa, and the three key members, guitarist, vocalist and principal songwriter Dylan Sires, bassist Graham Howland and drummer Ross Klemz, were indeed neighbors or close to it. The music had its start when Sires started playing solo gigs in 2011, but by the following spring was looking to raise the energy level and contacted neighbor and previous bandmate Klemz to make it a guitar and drums performance. After one of those shows, Howland, also a former bandmate of Sires’ came up to the duo and announced that he was going to play bass with them and there was nothing they could do about it. They all started writing tunes together the next day, according to Sires.
Sires says he doesn’t listen to much current pop music, but his tastes runs towards the British Invasion period. The Beatles influence is readily apparent, and Sires also cites Alex Chilton, David Bowie, Prince, Carole King, Queen, Radiohead, Harry Nilsson, ELO and Chuck Berry to name a few. One can hear bits of many of those in the band’s music.
The group set out ambitiously with a trilogy of albums planned in 2013 into 2015. The titles are No One, Someone, and the yet-to-be completed Everyone. No One and Someone were self-released in 2013, and now they are combined with the exception of a couple of tracks, into the generous 20-song set called Dylan Sires and Neighbors.
There have certainly been a lot of groups down through the years who have looked to the Lads from Liverpool for their inspiration, but even in the second decade of the 21st Century perhaps two generations on, there are young groups like this taking up the mantle, and doing it well. The astute Beatles fan can for the most part pick out which Beatles albums served as inspiration for some tunes, Revolver, Abbey Road and Sgt. Peppers for example. There are hints of the psychedelia, but Dylan Sires and Neighbors can turn to sources like doo-wop and even a little folkiness. Their stacked vocal harmonies can sometimes hint at Queen. But the result is not so much imitation but taking inspiration from the older material.
The first half consists of ten of the songs from No One, the earlier of the albums, while the second half features ten songs from the Someone album. But the sound is consistent and forms a continuum, since the songs for them were probably written around the same time. Like the Beatles albums of the time, this is a fairly studio intensive record with the three band members being heard on multiple instruments, and sometimes a bunch of backing vocals overdubbed. But it sounds much more real than almost any of today’s commercial pop.
The CD opens with the title track from the No One album, which is a clever and nicely done musical pastiche of Beatles and Brit pop influences. <<>>
Also showing Fab Four influence, specifically from George Harrison, is another kind of title track, In My Neighborhood. <<>>
The folkier side of the band comes out on Catherine, Diane, Michelle. But there are bits of Sixties psychedelia in there as well. <<>>
The band draws their influences from other sources in the somewhat rockier almost theatrical song called Two Bad Brothers. <<>>
On the second half of the record, consisting of tunes from their Someone release, the sound is similar in places though there are some occasional weak spots, such as the song Roses, which draws some on early Queen and with their vocal harmonies not as sharp as elsewhere. <<>>
We Are in This Together has a couple of generations of influence – the British Invasion bands when they were influenced by the earlier English music hall styles. They pull it off quite nicely. <<>>
For me one of the best tracks on the album is Alone in which the instrumentation is scaled back at first and the group’s vocal harmonies are at their best. An interesting touch they add for music like this is the addition of a country-styled steel guitar. <<>>
Another of the more interesting tracks is Downtown Lounge in which the band looks back a bit further to the doo-wop days for their inspiration, though there are some occasional vocal harmony interjections that have become a cliché in pop in the 2010s. <<>>
Dylan Sires and Neighbors is an excellent and ambitious trio from Waterloo, Iowa who have created some first-rate music that evokes the British Invasion, while mixing influences creatively enough that it comes across as being fresh and entertaining. Their generous eponymous collection contains most of the music of their two self-released albums No One and Someone, which are still available separately. The two records were recorded in close proximity so the two make a coherent combined recording. With 20 songs and 67 minutes on this collection, it’s almost too much, but one always can listen to it in more bite-sized portions. The one thing I noticed, though, is that as well as the music is executed and as appealing as it is, the songs have a tendency not to really stay with you. There aren’t many tunes that you’ll immediately go away humming, though the recording does stand up to repeated listenings without wearing thin.
Our grade for sound quality is a B-plus. The production and studio work are very good, with good clarity and no obvious attempts to dirty up the sound. But we’ll knock off the usual points for the heavy compression that robs the music of dynamics and makes it sound flat and rather lifeless.
Who would have thought that a great British Invasion style band would have come from Waterloo, Iowa? But Dylan Sires and Neighbors, who expressed their desire to stay put, even though they had a Japanese tour last year, show that good music can come from good places almost everywhere.
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