The words “middle brother” bring to mind zits, Nirvana T-shirts and a perpetually closed bedroom door. The band Middle Brother brings to mind none of these things. Middle Brother is driving down a country road with the windows open on a summer night. It’s stomping your feet and almost driving off the road because you closed your eyes to sing the last words of the chorus. The debut self-titled album from this super-group composed of John J. McCauley from Deer Tick, Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes and Matt Vasquez from Delta Spirit never lets you forget those country roads.
Many people have qualms with saying they like country music because, let’s face it, country music has gone soft. Contemporary country music, characterized by Tim McGraw, Kenney Chesney or — God forbid — Taylor Swift, has none of the edge of Johnny Cash or Jerry Lee Lewis. This is where Middle Brother shines — in the uncontrollable piano rifts and good times that sound like they’ve just come from touring the South in hot, cramped cars.
Some of the slower songs, like “Daydreaming” or “Blood and Guts,” sound like they might have been sung by McGraw when he was young and raw, when his heart had been broken and all he wanted to do was tear the person apart. This lack of polish, which Middle Brother also lacks, is exactly what makes it so great. It allows them to sing “I got a dick so hard that a cat couldn’t scratch” and “I just wanna get my fist through some glass.” If most country musicians are wearing cowboy hats and boots, Middle Brother is wearing trucker caps and dirty work boots.
Middle Brother doesn’t dwell on lamentations of past regrets; there’s too much energy in the music. It swings right past, and into the future, but it also helps that the spirit of the band is young, not the spirit of someone looking back on youth. Middle Brother is wild, and it doesn’t care that some of the edges are a little sharp. There are no porch swings or old dogs in Middle Brother, but there are plane crashes and eavesdropping on neighbors having sex. On the other side of this coin, Middle Brother is too raw to be ironic. Although its members may be professional musicians, its songs sound like they are half written around a campfire and finished at the last minute on stage. Their music avoids the polished and professional sound that comes from musicians in almost every contemporary genre — and that’s a nice change.