What is the Seattle sound? Truth is it changes. Frequently. Garage rock reigned in the mid-’60s. Grunge exploded out of the Emerald City in the early ’90s and the world is still reeling. Today, hip-hop acts like Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Shabazz Palaces, and Blue Scholars rule the roost.
Red Jacket Mine sounds like none of these. Led by songwriter Lincoln Barr, this quartet proudly calls Seattle home, but you’d be hard-pressed to pinpoint the guys’ area code simply by spinning their superlative new album, Someone Else’s Cake.
At first blush, this batch of eleven originals seems more like a product of England in the aftermath of punk, when angry young men such as Graham Parker, Joe Jackson, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, and Messrs. Difford and Tilbrook of Squeeze spilled out of the pubs and elbowed their way into the UK charts. (There’s even a hint of graphic design innovator Barney Bubbles in Shawn Wolfe‘s cover art.) But pay closer attention. Trust me, it isn’t hard. Someone Else’s Cake brims with melodies and lyrics that reveal new, deeper charms with repeated spins.
Barr grew up in Memphis, TN. Soul music is in his DNA. Check out the horn sounds that plump up “Better to Be Broken Than Blind” and the smoldering organ that anchors “Novelty’s Gone” if you doubt his River City bona fides. The songwriter and guitarist attended college near St. Louis, MO, a city with deep roots in jazz and blues tradition. Today, Barr also plays with Seattle quintet STAG, and while his own compositions eschew the sugar rush immediacy of that power pop combo for a somewhat subtler approach, they share an affinity for indelible hooks.
The follow-up to 2009′s sophomore full-length Lovers Lookout began taking shape in late 2010. In the wake of lineup changes—bassist Matthew Cunningham had joined longtime drummer Andrew Salzman in the RJM rhythm section—the band cooked up a series of limited-edition, colored-vinyl 7-inch singles. “Listen Up (If the World Is Going to Hell)” and “Bellar & Bawl” distilled Barr’s myriad influences into succinct gems designed to sit alongside any of the 45s he might stock in his own jukebox. As XTC once declared, this is pop—just not the kind that panders to the lowest common denominator.
As the singles garnered favorable press and airplay on KEXP 90.3 FM Seattle, Barr’s confidence increased. This sound felt truer to his aesthetic than ever, especially after the addition of Oklahoma native Daniel Walker on keys fleshed out the arrangements. More songs flowed forth, accumulating over the course of a year. “Listen Up” was composed in a post-sinus surgery painkiller haze, when its author couldn’t even sing the melody. Other compositions slyly reflected the headlines; economics and politics filtered into the lyrics of “Skint City” and “Ron Nasty.” So did episodes from daily life. As the 2012 election dragged on, a ranting evangelist outside Barr’s office exacerbated his exhaustion with hearing everyone’s opinion, inspiring the classic country-tinged “Have You Got a Permit to Preach on This Corner?”
“I’m not writing message songs, but what’s going on in the larger world makes its way into the music, even if I’m just trying to write a catchy little soul song,” the songwriter admits. Therein lies the beauty of Someone Else’s Cake. Something else is always brewing just below the surface of its catchy hooks and clever lyrics. How many times will a listener bop his or her head along to “Listen Up” before noticing its underlying message: when life gives you lemons, take your own life? Monetary terms pepper “Nickel and Dime,” yet the losses Barr outlines in his charming drawl aren’t the kind reflected in a bank statement.
Barr credits producer Johnny Sangster for helping Red Jacket Mine fully realize its new sound. “We couldn’t have gone into this renaissance without his partnership,” he says. While they shared points of intersection—Sangster’s production and engineering credits include the Posies’ album Success; Ken Stringfellow produced Red Jacket Mine’s Lovers Lookout, and lends his distinctive pipes to Someone Else’s Cake—the co-owner of Crackle & Pop! Studio also contributed a no-bullshit, punk rock attitude that favored brevity and eschewed getting too literal about referencing other musical eras and styles.
Red Jacket Mine isn’t part of the latest wave from Seattle or anywhere else. Someone Else’s Cake is timeless in its sensibilities, snagging the ear with endearing melodies and lyrical barbs, then engaging the heart and mind with ideas that run deeper. If the end result sounds like an album that’s already withstood the test of time…well, that’s because it undoubtedly will.
Recommended if you like: NRBQ, Nick Lowe, Joe Jackson, Elvis Costello & the Attractions, Alex Chilton, Garland Jeffreys, Graham Parker, Steve Forbert
Red Jacket Mine has shared the stage with Chuck Prophet, Alejandro Escovedo, Steve Forbert, Garland Jeffreys, The Minus 5, Ken Stringfellow (The Posies), Rebecca Gates (The Spinanes), Hugh Cornwell (The Stranglers), Glen Matlock (The Sex Pistols/The Faces), Bahamas, Loney Dear, Liam Finn, Jason Falkner, Richmond Fontaine, the 88, Apex Manor, Langhorne Slim, Everest, Retribution Gospel Choir, Glossary, Ian Moore, The Luyas, Jackie Greene, Reckless Kelly, Downpilot, The Devil Whale, Octoberman, and many, many more…
Hi-Res Promo Shots by Anna Hoychuk -
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praise for Someone Else’s Cake
Red Jacket Mine have funneled a lifetime’s worth of spring afternoons listening to records into 11 cleanly polished and highly varied slices of pop music magic.
— Fred Thomas, AllMusic, February 11, 2013
This Seattle band’s latest album is their finest work to date. It’s a warm, soulful, expertly crafted set of ‘70s-inspired pop-rock combining elements of early New Wave, Steely Dan, glam-rock, soul, roots-rock and more into vibrant pop gems with clever lyrics and sharp song hooks.
— Don Yates, KEXP, January 18, 2013
Barr possesses one of those elastic, honey-soaked vocals that brings to mind the Rascals or the Guess Who…a joyful sound that makes for any number of welcome returns.
— Lee Zimmerman, No Depression, February 26, 2013
This is heart-and-soul songwriting, full of fire and wit and guts…easily, the best pop record I’ve heard this year.
— Simon Sweetman, Off the Tracks (New Zealand), March 27, 2013
…unabashed strains of Nick Lowe, Graham Parker, and Elvis Costello…three-minute pub rock rarely gets better.
— Mary Leary, Dagger Zine, March 4, 2013
Full of great songs, inventive musical arrangements and classy vocal harmonies…what more could you ask for?
— Alan Cackett, Maverick Country
other recent praise for Red Jacket Mine
Another smart, catchy and utterly delightful pop tune from this excellent Seattle outfit…RJM is getting ready to take over the world, I swear.
— Michael Toland on “Amy,” The Big Takeover, December 23, 2012
“Bellar & Bawl” marries choppy power pop guitars to insistent Memphian ivories, and all the tuneful swagger implied by that description should not be underestimated; this is a song destined, if musical justice prevails, to be covered by bar bands across the land – at first, second, third and last call.
— Fred Mills, Blurt Magazine, May 29, 2012
Barr has a special talent for making new hits with vintage sounds that are above pastiche.
— Chris Kornelis, Seattle Weekly’s Reverb, May 11, 2012
[Barr is] one of those talented songwriters who’s absorbed a tremendous amount of intelligent song craft and draws equally from across the board. This results not only in instrumentation but lyrics that you aren’t going to really get until tomorrow.
— Jason Dean Egan, 7 i n c h e s blog on “Bellar & Bawl,” July 9, 2012
One spin of the fresh off the griddle, new Red Jacket Mine 7″ and “man oh man”. What a breeze of spring air. Effortless and light but not weightless. A hit song somewhere in the cosmos.
— singer/songwriter Jeffrey Dean Foster on “Listen Up (If the World is Going to Hell),” March 17, 2012
press bio for Lovers Lookout (2009)
Seattle band Red Jacket Mine — comprising singer/songwriter Lincoln Barr, bassist Matthew Cunningham, and drummer Andy Salzman — has spent the last five years honing its craft on stages throughout the Northwest, and it shows.
On the heels of their ornate, ambitious debut, Hello, Old Cloud, the band released its sophomore disc, Lovers Lookout, in October 2009, earning glowing reviews and heavy rotation on Seattle’s standard-bearing independent radio station KEXP. The last year has found the band sharing stages with the likes of Alejandro Escovedo, the Minus 5, Jason Falkner, and Richmond Fontaine.
Cut live to two-inch tape with minimal overdubs at Seattle’s Soundhouse Recording with producer/contributor Ken Stringfellow (The Posies/Big Star/The Disciplines), Lovers Lookout is a work entirely more immediate and accessible than its predecessor. Touching on Hi Records soul (“Such an Easy Thing”), bracing guitar rock (“Childish Things”), snotty bash & pop (“The Pose”), and smoky balladry (“Fascinated”), the album finds Hello, Old Cloud‘s often delicate, restrained tenor supplanted by a newfound passion and confidence.
“We set up in the studio just like we play live,” Barr says. “Since making the first album, we’d become a band, and I wanted to capture that without any kid-in-a-candy-store studio artifice getting in the way.”
On their increasingly-rare decision to record to tape, Barr says, “It’s certainly getting to be prohibitively expensive. We could only afford four reels — just enough for an album, really. I kind of felt like, if we wanted to make a record on tape, this could be our last chance. So we went for it, and it was absolutely the right decision. It simplified the process in the best possible way. ‘Is this the take? Because we can only keep one.’ It either is or isn’t. If it feels good, let’s go with it. If not, let’s play it again.”
As on Hello, Old Cloud, Eyvind Kang contributes several characteristically-brilliant string arrangements, but this time around, Kang’s contributions favor in-the-moment spontaneity over graceful composure. Nowhere is this more evident than on the hazy esoterica of “Apricot Moon,” where Kang’s viola wrestles fellow guest Ian Moore‘s angular, Tom Verlaine-meets-Hubert Sumlin guitar for dominance, consummating in a glorious cacophony of wood and wire. Moore also lends his signature keening falsetto to this track, providing Lovers Lookout with one of its most haunting moments.
With a knockout record in the can and an incendiary live show to back it up, Red Jacket Mine appear destined for the breakthrough their growing number of fans have expected all along. Beyond that, there’s no dramatic story of tragedy and triumph. The fellows in Red Jacket Mine are reasonably content, and why shouldn’t they be? The story is the music. And the music is good.
Download the Lovers Lookout one-sheet (PDF, 130K)
praise for Lovers Lookout (2009)
Lovers Lookout is aglow…bursting at the digital seams with pristine pop and luminous blue-eyed soul, with hints of psychedelia and Americana lining the seams…Posies/Big Star/R.E.M. fans will surely find the four young men of Red Jacket Mine to be kindred spirits – but the bottom line is that these guys have the kind of songs and chops that will weather any level of scrutiny.
— Fred Mills, Blurt Online (http://www.blurt-online.com), December 31, 2009
As luminous and warm as a beam of morning sun in your kitchen.
— Brian J. Barr, Seattle Weekly (http://www.seattleweekly.com), January 8, 2010
There is an immediacy to tracks like “Childish Things” and the ever so damn catchy “Showponies” that take very little amount of plays to lodge themselves in that part of the brain marked ‘constant rotation.’ [...] Jangling guitars, soaring harmonies, and sharp, precise production is the key here making for a good hearty listen…what’s not to like?
— Del Day, Americana UK (http://www.americana-uk.com), November 10, 2009
Red Jacket Mine is the real thing…this record, played 100% live in the studio, brilliantly displays how they have every detail of their western desert-lonesome sound, and their evocative lyrics under the command of a powerful vision, which they see through to a gorgeous, glorious conclusion…bleak biblical allusions and dripping-warm Motown love declarations coexist in Red Jacket Mine’s peculiar Eden.
— Ken Stringfellow, Lovers Lookout producer, singer/songwriter (The Posies/Big Star/The Disciplines)
The unassuming pop of Red Jacket Mine is a refreshing reminder that talented musicians continue to make wonderful albums. Lovers Lookout is likely my favorite “new” album since Midlake’s Trials of Van Occupanther. In a perfect world, Red Jacket Mine would be on top of the charts, but fuck the charts and the radio and the critics. Make the world that you want—and for me, that world includes Lovers Lookout in heavy rotation, particularly when friends stop by for a cold drink.
— Edward Burch, musical curmudgeon & singer/songwriter (Bennett & Burch/Kennett Brothers)
It’s as if Joe Pernice joined Centro-matic and we are all better for the union.
— Ben London, singer/songwriter (Burning Rivers/Sanford Arms)
praise for Hello, Old Cloud (2008)
Red Jacket Mine, fronted by the silky smooth vocals of Lincoln Barr, has created a darker American sound…with steel guitars, crunchy drums, and a guitar that often soars into beauteous oblivion, this band will satisfy the country-pop hipster post-rock scallywag in anyone.
— Chuck Dula, Weekly Volcano, Tacoma, Washington, March 5, 2009
Hello, Old Cloud reveals how much Barr has grown as a songwriter in the last five years…[his vocals] are in strong form throughout the record…I am confident that Red Jacket Mine are just getting started.
— Hugh Miller, Unfinished web zine, May 19, 2008
Hello, Old Cloud drifts along languidly, buoyed by Barr’s slightly fragile voice and intelligent lyrics. Like spiked lemonade, it’s refreshing and intoxicating.
— Barbara Mitchell, Portland Tribune, March 14, 2008
…on the cusp of releasing debut album Hello, Old Cloud, [Red Jacket Mine's] confident orchestrations sound like they’ve been around for much longer, as do songwriter Lincoln Barr’s mature lyrics and smooth delivery.
— Seattle Metropolitan magazine, January 2008