Free and legal MP3: Jared Mees & the Grown Children (homespun hoedown w/ cosmopolitan concerns)

Engaging, homespun hoedown, with a loose, swift sense of purpose about it. But for all its back-porch, fiddle-fronted ambiance, note how the song has no obvious lyrical connection to dirt roads and rustic living beyond its title image; we hear instead contemporary words and phrases like television, red ink, lead actor, tragicomedy.

Jared Mees and the Grown Children

“Cockleburrs and Hay” – Jared Mees & the Grown Children

Engaging, homespun hoedown, with a loose, swift sense of purpose about it. But for all its back-porch, fiddle-fronted ambiance, note how the song has no obvious lyrical connection to dirt roads and rustic living beyond its title image; we hear instead contemporary words and phrases like television, red ink, lead actor, tragicomedy. Towards the end of the song, Mees rhymes “cradle-robbing capillary blocker” with “limp-wristed back-alley stalker.”

This ongoing tension between the song’s cosmopolitan concerns and its rural sound is a good part of the charm. The ensemble’s spirited, toe-tapping energy pretty much takes care of the rest. Exactly who the Grown Children are at any one time has not been made clear, it being a name for, basically, whomever shows up and plays with Mees at any given time (more than 20 players are identified, by first name, on the MySpace page). The informality of the gathering, combined with the quality of the musicianship, is, I think, what lends this song its particular flair—it doesn’t sound painstakingly rehearsed as much as spontaneously combusted.

The Portland, Ore.-based Mees originally recorded “Cockleburrs and Hay” (minus one “r”) for his 2007 solo album If You Want to Swim With the Sharks; this is a new and improved version of the song, recorded during a recent studio session and not yet on any album. The group’s first album, Caffeine, Alcohol, Sunshine, Money, was released in 2008 on Tender Loving Empire.

Free and legal MP3: Blue Horns (thorny guitars, yelpy vocals)

“Shotgun Wedding” – Blue Horns

With its thorny guitars and yelpy vocals, “Shotgun Wedding” brings the early work of the late great New Zealand band Split Enz rather immediately to mind, but that’s only because I’m old and remember them. It’s probably an accident. (They didn’t really do the thorny guitar thing, anyway. Thorny keyboards, thorny strings, maybe. Yelpy vocals, definitely.) Perhaps less of an accident is the way the band’s clearly voiced dual guitar sound recalls another ’70s band, Television, although this is jumpier and poppier than what Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd were doing. These guys are like Television’s kid brother, just wanting to have a bit of actual fun. (Television was cool and great but not much fun.)

“Shotgun Wedding”‘s charm, to me, has to do with its commanding spirit of loose tightness (or is it tight looseness?)–an aural sense and sensibility that characterizes a lot of great rock’n’roll through the years. You want it to sound spontaneous and alive, but you also want everything just so. There’s nothing muddy or muddled here; the two guitars play cleverly together, and you can always hear what each one is doing if you stop to listen. The song rollicks to a spiky, shuffly beat, singer Brian Park (he also plays one of the guitars) unleashes his warbly falsetto with exquisite precision (check out the note he hits at 0:52, which pretty much sold me on the song), the guitars take a break from their prickly, tick-tock dueting to give us a little “Heat Wave”-y swing (1:19), and the whole thing wraps in 2:40.

Blue Horns is a quartet from Portland, Oregon. “Shotgun Wedding” is the lead track on the band’s self-titled debut album, which was self-released at the end of last year.