South 85 celebrates the release of its new album “Too Much Town” Friday at Visulite (1615 Elizabeth Ave.). The band, who divides its time between upstate South Carolina and Charlotte has made a big impression on the regional music scene with its combination of smart country songwriting and vocalist Tracy Wyatt’s hell raising stage presence. That hard charging persona was most evident on the humorous live favorite “DUI” (which appeared as a live track on its debut "El Camino"). While that track is memorable, it was only one facet of South 85’s capabilities.
Its new album “Too Much Town,” showcases the subtler side of the five-piece. It’s a bit more refined than the band’s debut (which had some incredible tracks as well) in part thanks to the production of Eric “Roscoe” Ambel who was an early member of Joan Jett’s Blackhearts as well as guitarist in Steve Earle’s Dukes.
South 85 is country at its core, but oftentimes melancholy mid-tempo tracks paint the duo of Wyatt and chief songwriter/guitarist Kathy Noonan as kind of a country Heart. There’s a bit of Fleetwood Mac to the melodies. Bluegrass instrumentation sticks closer to old time honky-tonk elsewhere. “Barstool,” which closes the disc, is a classic speakeasy tune that sounds culled from another era.
“Too Much Town” also shows the band’s growth. Wyatt’s voice has grown softer and maybe more controlled. I must admit I miss some of the fire and sexiness of the first record, but “Too Much Town” seems like it will be more marketable in Nashville where I think South 85 deserves a shot. That’s not to say that old sass is absent. The opening track “What About You” is a classic drinking song with perfect lines like “Nothing ‘bout you makes me want to stay sober.” “River,” which showcases guitarist Mike Bader’s blues chops and songwriting, is a boot stomper about Southern living with a meaty guitar lead. “Take Me on a Ride” is more in the mode of an `80s rock song – like Rosanne Cash-meets-Quarterflash with haunting bass driven verses. “Mama’s .45” is a dark heavier Southern rock track about a pistol packing woman on the run. On the flipside “Carson City” is Noonan at her heartbreaking best.
As for that bid at Nashville, South 85 may not be as slick as most of what makes it on country radio, but the songwriting and arrangements are already there. If Nashville doesn’t adopt it, I’d love to hear the group’s songs covered by some of country’s big names in turn throwing some cash, publicity, and appreciation its way.
“Too Much Town” is available at Band Camp and CD Baby. Friday’s show begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 and John Howie of Two Dollar Pistols opens the show. 704-358-9200; www.visulite.com; www.south85.com