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Wednesday, 14 June 2006 00:00

Roman Candle’s ‘Wee Hours’ aims for a place in the heart

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By Chris Cooper

The best rock album of the year is about to be released. No kidding.

My first encounter with Roman Candle was sometime in 2002. I was slinging beer in a little venue in Charlotte, and the band I was playing with was offered a slot opening for these guys. Of course there was a scheduling conflict, the opening gig fell through, and I wound up bartending the show.

It could’ve been a disappointment, but shortly after they loaded in and began tuning and warming up, I was perfectly content just to stand behind the bar and listen.

The album that will be known as The Wee Hours Revue was called Says Pop! back then. The show was amazing. Attendance was a little light, but that didn’t prevent singer/guitarist Skip Matheny from launching himself vertically like an electrified cat a few times throughout the set.

Though I was often able to wrangle a free CD from most of the bands by virtue of sliding a few beers their way, this was one of those occasions where actually spending my tip money on a disc and a T-shirt was the only right thing to do. I was a die-hard fan halfway through the sound-check, let alone the actual show.

It seems like the best albums, the ones you’ll love, patiently wait for you to find your place with them. Repeated listening always reveals hidden treasures, we all know that. Maybe some tricky little vocal thing, a clever effect on the drum track you never noticed pops up and turns your ear. Those are merely the trappings of infatuation. The great ones wait for you to connect emotionally.

So it wasn’t until finishing a nine month struggle-fest in Boston, living in a shoe-box of an apartment with a subway stop right outside the window, trading rolling hills of green for dirty snow and concrete, that I found out how much Says Pop! truly had in store for me.

I was pretty sure that I hated Boston, and that being back here in the South was the best thing ever. So a few months went by, life settled into something resembling a routine, and I decided to give that old RC album a spin. “You Don’t Belong To This World” loaded up, and as I closed my eyes, it seemed I was back in that noisy little apartment, on that noisy street, but now I actually missed it.

The struggle was a memory, but it wasn’t a bad one anymore. Those were the times that test people, test relationships: but just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s bad. The line “... gets me thinking ‘bout just passing time and trying to get by/leaning out the window just to listen to the sirens go by...” punched me square in the sentimental bone. Hard. As did the rest of the song, along with “Something Left To Say” and “Well, I Wish I Was In New York...” and “Winterlight.” Let’s just say the whole CD beat the crap out of me. Though I’d had the album in my collection for over a year at that point, it felt like the first listen.

It’s really no surprise that a formerly transplanted Southerner would relate so strongly to the images and stories Roman Candle pack into their tunes. Wilkesboro, N.C., natives (and brothers) Skip and Logan Matheny started the band sometime in ’97, eventually adding Skip’s wife Timshel on keys. Things rolled around for a while, they signed to the small Outlook label, and recorded the lo-fi but supremely crafted Says Pop! in their basement.

But it’s during those earlier years of touring that they probably spent more than a little time in bigger cities than they expected, looking around for something even remotely familiar. Once he realized he wasn’t going to find it, it seems Matheny just embraced the things he saw and felt, compressing them into a slew of brilliant songs.

Tossing Roman Candle into the oft-abused “alt-country” stack is just plain wrong, so don’t do it. Merely accept that they draw equally from just about everywhere: British rock (a little Stones and Kinks come to mind), lush and tightly arranged 70’s pop, country, vintage soul and the studio trickery of anyone from Spector to Martin to Reznor.

With the aid of the venerable Chris Stamey, the band has ironed those lovably rough spots in the original recording out and added a new tune to the collection, a pretty duple-metered little slice of soul called “I Didn’t Mind At All.” Though the recording quality of Says Pop! never really bugged me in the first place, I have to admit this “new and improved” version isn’t mere lily gilding. It sounds great, and does true justice to a bunch of songs that deserve the best.

Call me a sycophant. I don’t care. The Wee Hours Revue is going to rock your pants off, so don’t bother with a belt or anything. I’m not even going to indulge in the whole number thing. My point has been made.

(Chris Cooper is a guitar teacher at In Your Ear Music Emporium in Sylva. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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