So, first things first—I must give credit where it’s due. One of my oldest childhood friends, a guy who throughout high school was on an evangelical-like crusade to cajole me to savor the musical stylings of the Kinks with something approaching the misguided zeal he exhibited—I mean, is “Destroyer” really all that?—turned me on to this band, currently hailing from Los Angeles but, like liberty itself, birthed in Philadelphia. JB, you’ve done me a solid with Mt. Joy. I hereby forgive you all the listening sessions where you mercilessly spun “Victoria,” “You Really Got Me” and “Sunny Afternoon” until my ears bled.
Mt. Joy is firmly based in rock but infuses their riffs with some seriously groovy soul. Maybe it’s too much exposure to psychoanalysis, but sometimes when I listen to a new song, I close my eyes and await the first descriptor to drop into my consciousness—sort of a musical Rorschach test. When I first heard “Sheep” off Mt. Joy’s 2018 eponymous debut record, Teddy Pendergrass immediately lit up my grey matter. Which is odd since I’m not familiar with Teddy Pendergrass’ music at all (although I’m now strangely curious about it). So I guess it’s more accurate to say that “Sheep” reminds me of what I imagine Teddy Pendergrass sounds like—for what that’s worth. Admittedly not much, so best to check it out for yourself.
Another vaguely funky, soul-dappled tune is “Astrovan,” which posits the existence of a “doobie-smoking Jesus” driving an Astrovan, stoned, “while Jerry plays.” Garcia, I presume, not Falwell. The song puts me in mind of Joan Osborne’s hit, “One of Us,” from way back in the day, which asked, “What if God was one of us?/Just a slob like one of us?” Slightly less blasphemous than “Astrovan” for sure, but a similar spiritual searching going on. See what you think.
If I have one criticism of Mt. Joy, it’s that I could use not more cow bell, but more guitar solos. I’m not sure when exactly the guitar solo vanished from the Earth, but its disappearance is tragic. Maybe not polar bear-scale tragic, but still, it’s not good. Some of Mt. Joy’s tunes downright scream for more guitar, like Marvin Gaye in “Sexual Healing” crying out that he’s hot just like an oven and needs some lovin’. It’s that intense. Take for example, the beautifully angsty ballad, “Younger Days,” which reminds me of Fine Tuning Favorite, A.A. Bondy. Granted I’m no record producer, but even more than the dirgeful lyrics (“If I don't wake up trace me on the asphalt/Let the morning rain wash me away”), the lack of a guitar solo in this sweet, sweet tune, preferably inserted as an extended, plaintive outro, breaks my rock ‘n’ roll heart. See if you can feel me.
All of which makes me think Mt. Joy would be a fantastic band to catch live, if there’s ever live music again. My guess is that freed from the strictures of the recording studio, they’d loosen up and unload live. Here’s a video that captures what I’m talking about—a live stream version of the aptly titled “Let Loose” from their 2020 record, Rearrange Us. The solo starts at 2:40 and goes on for almost a minute and a half. Great stuff. If only it were mixed a little louder!
Speaking of loud, when I first moved to California, my Aunt Wendy sent me a mix tape. She did so even though it was 2000 and nobody listened to cassettes anymore. But that’s how she rolled. Old school. Drove a VW bug, too. But I digress. Anyway, this particular mix tape featured Wilco’s “California Stars” to welcome me to my new home on the west coast. She included a note in which, after expressing the hope that I still had a tape player (miraculously, I did, buried behind boxes of books down in the basement), she urged me to play the tape “REAL LOUD!” Well, I urge you to play the first track off Rearrange Us, a tune called “Bug Eyes,” REAL LOUD! Aunt Wendy was on to something—certain tunes just sound better REAL LOUD! Maybe they generate some bonus endorphins at ear-splitting volume. Not sure. I wouldn’t necessarily put “California Stars” in that category, but I absolutely do “Bug Eyes.” The tune starts quiet—real quiet, like a gentle snowfall on a perfectly still night. But at about the two-minute mark the drums and bass kick in, followed thirty seconds later by the guitars which take the song to eleven. It’s a glorious cacophony that will set your head violently a-nodding Beavis and Butthead style, right hand extended in a hook ‘em horns formation. I couldn’t find a suitable video, so here’s the studio version. Crank it up, preferably through high quality headphones.
As a reward for making it all the way to the end of this post, here’s a clip of Mt. Joy’s Matt Quinn and Sam Cooper, childhood friends from Philly, knocking out Neil Young’s “Don’t Let It Bring You Down.” As if there was any doubt of their classic rock bona fides. Enjoy.