Mike Young, founding member of local rock act Clementine Was Right, seems a man with big questions on his mind.
"A person or a group travels, but what does that travel mean in a cultural history? Or in context of lineage?" he asks. "What does it mean for people to play music in places that aren't theirs?"
These questions don't have answers, but they serve as prompts for Young's writing, floating through the ephemera and directly into the lyrics of Lightning and Regret, the debut full-length LP from the semi-local band.
And while the album is set to debut on Jan. 29, there are more questions hanging over Young's head. Having recently relocated to Nashville, Young finds himself in a place where he's "trying to figure out what it all looks like. It's fun to explain to people that my band is in New Mexico and I'm in Nashville."
So where does that leave Clementine Was Right?
"I feel really good about the people in the band. We have a lot of plans to make another record after this one," Young says.
Generally, this long-distance relationship is a good thing. Lightning and Regret is not a flawless album, but very few are, of course. Still, it opens strong with "Jekyll Beach," a straightforward classic rock jam that sounds like a Dire Straits
B-side from Brothers In Arms. Young has an MFA in fiction writing, and his ability to weave lyrical beauty and pain into a song comes through directly here, setting the tone for the rest of Regret as he sings, "in a mobile home down a burnt-up ridge, my father dies into his oxygen."
Real? Also yes.
This sort of Zevon-esque poetry follows throughout most of the album, but there are missteps in its nine songs. The second track, for example, while a sonic treat, contains lyrics that are (to put it lightly) dreadfully trite. For all the goodwill "Jekyll Beach" builds out of the gate, I don't know if there's a way for me to un-hear the opening lines of "Go it Careful," which feels like every cis dude's sexual conquest checklist: "I been with the daughter of a Democrat, I been with a hippie and an alley cat."
And though the song finishes with the sweet note "If you go it careful with my heart, I'll go it careful with your heart," there just has to be a better way to say what Young's trying to say here. Chalk this up to first-release learning experiences, though, because "Go it Careful" is an anomaly. Young's sharp lyrical sensibility returns quickly, and by the fourth song, Lightning and Regret finds its footing again. Aside from a few production blips (the most egregious being the poorly mixed "Tarot And Whiskey"), the mix and tonal quality is a marked improvement from their first set of straggler song releases, the appropriately titled Stagecoach Demos, from early last year.
"I have a weird anxiety about things that sound lo-fi," Young explains. "I love it when other people do it, but when my stuff is lo-fi, it reminds me that I grew up very poor, and I want to avoid thinking about that." Unfortunately for him, sitting with those memories are what make Young such an interesting songwriter. Clementine Was Right succeeds in extracting beauty and meaning in the low places of rural America—in growing up on the wrong side of town, in telling stories about broken people and the fallout from a life of wrong choices. And when Young lets himself find those moments, the band shines.
"I feel that my art sets up shared spaces for catharsis," he muses.
For the most part, he's right. When he's at his best, he is a lyricist on par with some of the better classic rock influences he carries on his sleeve, the Neil Youngs and such. When the band is in their groove, Regret serves as a reminder of why The Greats will always be The Greats. And maybe that's why, when the albumfalls flat, it feels so glaringly wrong; it's not that those mistakes are objectively terrible or lessen the value of the album—who hasn't written a song about some variation of a one-night stand, or made a bad choice in their production? Rather, it's because those mistakes are being held up in comparison to the remainder of the album. And there's plenty of beauty to go around
Clementine was Right with The Batrays & Illegal Aliens:
8 pm Wednesday Jan. 29. $5-$10.
2889 Trades West Road.