Memphis Radio Kings – No Band in the Happy Place

Memphis Radio Kings
No Band in the Happy Place

On their debut, the Memphis Radio Kings teased us with promise. After the glow faded from the stunning opener, “Givin’ Up,” the disc took turns fading and reviving in a pleasant, yet uneven set list. However, the Seattle trio’s sophomore release, No Band in a Happy Place, offers and fulfills its promise from start to finish. The haunting opener, “Waiting on a Train,” as good or better in every respect as “Givin’ Up,” encapsulates the Memphis Radio Kings – the smart pop hooks, smooth singing, and entrancing Memphis-tinged rumbling guitar – at their finest. And, instead of letting one great song dangle noticeably in front of an average album, the band stretches out its signature songs and musicianship through 12 finely crafted songs.
No Band in a Happy Place originally filters all the musical flavors of middle America into smart, thoroughly enjoyable pop rock. Seattle area writer Steve Stav summed up the Memphis Radio Kings’ sound perfectly in writing, “the Kings have produced a record that has roots somewhere between Minneapolis and Mississippi – between the Replacements and Lightnin’ Hopkins.” It’s more bluesy than early 60s British Invasion pop, more pop than the Replacements, and more punk than Sun Studio rockabilly. And, as the playful riff from “Purple Rain” in “Wasted Years,” suggests, the Minneapolis influence springs from more than just The Replacements. No Band in a Happy Place sits comfortably in between all of these influences, letting the band pick what suits them best from each style.
Highlighting their connection to Southern roots music, the Memphis Radio Kings guide these songs without a bass. On their debut, without the crutch of a solid bass line, several songs gamely drifted about not hitting the listener with the impact they should have. Since then, the band’s songwriting has progressed dramatically, writing tunes specifically to showcase their talents and their instrumentation. On No Band in a Happy Place, you hardly notice the bass is gone. Tony Leamer’s drums power and skip playfully through the set, keeping the music frantically ahead of conventional pop-rock beats. Charlie Beck’s voice finds a home in each of these songs. His slightly scuffed-up tenor perfectly balances between sugary pop and urgent, emotionally-charged post-punk rock.
But these songs belong to Tim Jones’ guitar. Whether he’s behind these scenes playing off Leamer’s drums in a two-step boogie, or if he’s in front bending notes in effortless quick country-blues solos, his stamp is all over this music. He leaves the listener an impression that he’s some grizzled session guitarist, who’s seen it all and played it all. His performances never muscle out the rest of the band. Instead, the notes and textures his guitar conjures only increase the atmosphere and overall effect of each song.
In No Band in a Happy Place, the Memphis Radio Kings have an exceptional, confident collection of country-flavored power pop. With any luck and justice, the work they’ve given us will gain them much more attention than this review. They certainly deserve it. If not, they should be proud that in this album, they’ve added several fresh gallons to the Mississippi River’s musical legacy.