By Rod Peck
One of the greatest joys in a music nerd’s life is getting the chance to see up-and-coming young artists in a small, intimate setting. When the venue is as lovely a joint as The Mill on Burlington Street in Iowa City, well, things just don’t get any better. The Mill has been around since the early 60s and is a near-perfect place to eat dinner and catch some good live music. I would advise that if you have comfort issues with wooden seats, bring your own cushion, as I did for my sometimes troublesome lower back. The food and atmosphere are both top-of-the-line.
Generally speaking, my strongest interests lie in the history of American music, so it stands to reason that my favorite current genre is what is known as Americana, which is defined by the Americana
Music Association as “contemporary music that incorporates elements of various mostly acoustic American roots music styles, including country, roots rock, folk, gospel and bluegrass resulting in a distinctive roots-oriented sound that lives in a world apart from the pure forms of the genres upon which it may draw. While acoustic instruments are often present and vital, Americana also often uses a full electric band.” It’s a big, wide umbrella, for sure, with room for many types of performers.
The Talbott Brothers, a pair of 20-somethings originally from small-town Nebraska, are fine representatives of the genre. They released their second album, “Ghost Talker,” on Oct. 18
and have received positive press from both Rolling Stone and Billboard. The former named the opening
track from the new album, “Run No More,” as one of the top 10 new songs in country and Americana, describing their music as “cinematic folk-rock for open highways, widescreen skies, and the limitless reach of the American heartland,” while Billboard featured the music video for the new song “Without a Doubt” and praised them for their “haunting harmonies.”
Once Terri and I had zeroed in on this show as one we’d like to see, we dialed the Talbotts up on Spotify and found them to be quite enjoyable, but, as is often a problem to my tastes, their studio music seemed to be somewhat over-produced. I was excited to hear what they would sound like in front of an audience. However, once we got to The Mill, we quickly realized that the stage was set up for only a duo performance, which is understandable, as touring small venues often makes taking a band on the road economically unfeasible. As a fan, the thing to do at this point is to accept this situation and enjoy the music for what it is.
The Talbott Brothers took the stage looking the part in their denim jeans and wide-brimmed hats. Younger brother Tyler, the lead singer, has the good looks and voice for the front man’s job. I felt his weakness in this role is that, while Americana audiences are always indulgent of between-song patter from performers, Tyler seemed somewhat uncomfortable at times talking to the audience, and to me, the band would be best served by letting the music speak for itself more. Older brother Nick, sporting a beard and dressed a bit darker than Tyler, provided excellent guitar work while joining in for the kind of harmonies that you’d expect from two brothers who have been singing together all their lives.
Aside from their merits as performers, one gets the sense that the Talbotts are a pair of genuinely good Midwestern fellas with a true passion for music and a burning desire to achieve their dreams. It’s easy to imagine their former classmates already settled into adult lives with children, mortgages and day jobs while the brothers are touring, probably in a van, chasing the dream. Their personal likability makes me really want to cheer for them to hit the big time. I’d categorize them as a good-but-not-great duo.
However, what I’d really like to see is what the Talbotts could do with a good band behind them in a situation where they could rock a little more and Nick’s guitar chops were pushed to the limit. Under those circumstances, I’d love to go see them again and would be willing to bet they could take things to the next level in that type of setting.