Album Review Reviews

Review:: Little Rock | Courtesy Tier

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Blues music is boring. I love it, but that’s kind of the point,
right? It’s crazy that there’s a genre of music where such a big part of the
sound is defined by a certain chord progression and a specific
scale. It’s among the oldest of American music traditions, and somehow we’re
still interested in this down-and-dirty simple ditty that dates back to the
early nineteenth century.

But of course, it’s this consistency that has made blues so
wonderful. The thump works just as well as the stomp, and allows these little
changes to shine through as tectonic shifts that feel revolutionary. Blues-rock
was never that big of an innovation, but rock and roll has continued to be
influenced by the power of Led Zeppelin and Eric Clapton for decades. The Black
Keys added Danger Mouse as a producer in 2008, and the shiny-but-distorted
sound of Brothers has become the
sound of not just recent blues, but half of popular modern rock since.

All this talk about the
seminal moments of the blues is probably setting up Courtesy Tier, the New York
City threesome that release their first EP, Little
Rock
on November 6, a little too strongly. This is the first EP by a band
that, like the aforementioned half of modern rock bands, sound a lot like the
Black Keys. They have crunchy rhythm guitars, wailing lead guitars, drums with
lots of hi-hats and great little fills at the end of every measure and bass
that has a little extra feedback on it to give it a real thud.

Their lead singer sounds like he’s singing through a very bad
microphone even though it’s probably an excellent studio one with some effects.
They’re pretty good at all these things, which means…they mostly sound a lot
like The
Black Keys and a few other current blues-rock bands.

Mostly. There’s something different here, and I’m going to
speculate wildly as to what.

The second song on the Little
Rock EP
, “Green,” which is also their best in a not-even-competitive way,
sounds Israeli. No, that doesn’t mean it sounds like “Hava Negilah” or other
old-timey Jewish music, or even like the
songs that became Israeli folk music to the early Zionist movements.
It sounds like Israeli modern rock.

This makes sense, since singer/guitarist Omer Liebowitz is
apparently from Israel (and also West Africa). I don’t know the guy, so I hate
to speculate on whether there was a deliberate attempt to throw a bit of his
home country into this American music style with his American band-mates, but I
just listen to this song, and I hear Aviv Geffen, and Beit Habubot, and the
other artists I heard on Galgalatz radio for the several months I worked in the
greenhouse on a kibbutz.

I really have no idea what defines this Israeli sound. This
extends beyond my difficulty in writing this review. I noticed it years ago,
and I started to enjoy it, and then could never place what it was. There’s a
minor-key thing, and a rising, almost triumphant melodic style on the short
choruses, and a lot of reverb-y guitar picking, and then there’s something else
I can’t place. It makes for good music, and Courtesy Tier is part of that
statement.

The other two songs on the EP sound more like what blues sounds
like outside of Israel and that’s not a bad thing. They too have a little bit
of an edge to them, a little bit of a feeling that this is not just a standard,
a little bit of a feeling that the blues, which has survived since before the
time of sound recording by limiting the changes to I-IV-V, has added another
miniscule little quirk, a small veer in direction by just a few degrees that
could, in the long run, send it a completely different place.

Release Date: November 6th, 2015
Run Time: ~12 minutes
Rating: 4/5

Track listing:
1. Little Rock
2. Green
3. Childish Blues

Written by Jon Hecht

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