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There is a process I go through every time I sit down to write one of these articles. It starts with locking myself away with a copy of the album or EP for an hour or two. I take no notes, not initially anyway—the idea is to give it a few listens all the way through. By the third time around, the elements that are going to stand out have stood out, and then it’s a very simple matter of talking about them. Before any of this happens, I generally ask the members of the band to describe their sound in their own words, and I’ve never had to offer the caveat that I may not describe them the way they describe themselves. At least not until I sat down with the Maycomb Criers.
Billing themselves as “country-tinged rock-and-roll” is not inaccurate in much the same way as saying your ’57 Corvette has leather seats. It is a technically true statement, but it fails to capture the essence of what they’re really all about. They are “country-tinged” to be sure, but they are no less blues, rockabilly, guitar rock, funk and, if you listen subtly, there’s a distinctive flavor of punk as well. In fact, having listened to their Reverbnation set many times, my recurring thought seems to be, “Somewhere Joe Strummer nods in approval…”
The band’s genesis began way back in the days when vocalist/guitar player Jesse Jungkurth was playing with local favorites Milele Roots. Jungkurth’s creative output as a songwriter during this period was prolific, but very little of it was reggae, and as Milele is a reggae band, that meant that most of this material stayed in the notebook or on the shelf. According to Jungkurth, “A songwriter who doesn't sing the songs he writes is worth about as much as a beer mug with a hole in the bottom.” The solution to the beer mug conundrum was to find an outlet, a voice for the songs that weren’t being sung—and to that end Jungkurth assembled a band of respected pros and the Maycomb Criers were born.
The band’s lineup is a roster of top-notch talent from the area, featuring Jungkurth on guitars and vocals, Adrian Lajas on bass and vocals, Nick Randles on drums and vocals and respected engineer Brett Nolan on keyboards. Members of the quartet had been playing together on various projects for years, so the transition from “musician buddies” to bandmates was an easy one. Indeed, their familiarity gave them a jumpstart that many bands struggle with for months and even years, lending a tight fluidity to their performances that proves this isn’t a stable of hired guns—this is a group of pros who function with a cohesion and clarity of purpose that belies their five short years together. It would be easy to assume this band of 30-somethings has been together since their high school days.
Currently, if you want to hear the Maycomb Criers, you have two options. You can hear them at Reverbnation, where six superb tracks are available (three live, three from the studio) or you can see them live. An album is currently in production, though Jungkurth is hesitant to suggest a release date, having jokingly explained that ADD keeps getting in the way of completion. It seems far more likely that album delays are the result of a great deal of painstaking care in the recording process, combined with a steady supply of new material. Whenever the album is released, it will be a must-have, as great an example of the high quality of music being produced locally as anything currently available.
Listen for the juxtaposition of crunchy Fender Telecaster with bright, shiny mandolin, especially on my personal favorite, “The Losing Game.” True, thanks to Mumford & Sons it seems like every band in the country has run out to the store and picked up a mandolin, but the instrument was a part of the Criers’ sound long before it became the “gimmick of the day,” and they use it to great effect. I am inclined to call it their “secret ingredient,” that element that takes great music and gives it a unique flavor no one else has managed to emulate.
The Maycomb Criers will be appearing at Skyzoo on October 12, so mark it on your calendars,.No fan of live music will want to miss it.