The O’s make the kind of music that’s perfect for sitting on the back porch with a cold one, watching the sun set over the power lines in the distance. Or, they make the kind of music that suits driving down a sun-washed country road at top speed, singing along loudly, windows open, hoping to reach your lady before she goes and ruins her life by marrying that guy she met at a barbecue last summer – the one where you got pissed and climbed up on the roof and couldn’t find your way down. And they do it all with little more than acoustic guitar, banjo, and instantly catchy vocal melodies.
Taylor Young and John Pedigo, from Dallas, Texas and sounding like it, work with a sort of synergy, taking the brittle frailty of guitar and banjo, respectively, and weaving it into a complex and beautiful framework – the sort of thing the best, and most enduring, Americana is made of. A natural comparison can be made to North Carolina’s wildly successful indie-Americana darlings, The Avett Brothers, but The O’s bring a sort of simplicity and wide-eyed naivety to their music that their now star-struck compatriots seem to lack.
On their debut album We Are The O’s, Young and Pedigo rarely stray from the guitar-and-banjo formula, and they rarely leave the topic of lost love, and that mainstay of American roots music, the forever longing for freedom in the open fields of an undiscovered country, sometimes metaphorically (Together), sometimes not (California, on which Young sings of a “better state, one where the streets are paved with gold,” and where “our love will never grow old”). Their music recalls a simpler time of rocking chairs and general stores, but not nostalgically. It somehow remains modern and meaningful, as a welcome southwestern representative in the current indie-folk movement.
All this singing about love and longing can create some unnecessarily earnest sentimentality, but The O’s can be forgiven this, for the most part. For example, on the album opener, You’ve Got Your Heart, they sing of nature as representative of meaningful relationships: “Look at the pretty flowers beneath the pines./ We’ll talk for hours as the day unwinds.” A bit wistful, sure. Or on the standout ballad, I Still Wait, Pedigo sings, “In the darkness, fluorescent paleness drifts over the night / In a state of shock, I scream forgiveness, and tears fill my eyes,” before collapsing into wailing, larynx-thrashing yelling refrain, “And I still wait, darlin’ I do.” It’s campy, romantic stuff, but somehow it works.
There are, though, plenty of down-to-earth moments to level the album’s overall sense of heightened romanticism. On Diamonds, The O’s sing in low-rent terms about commitment: “This ain’t something that we get drunk and forget./ We sit around and whine to our friends.” And on the embittered Don’t Waste Your Day, Pedigo warns a lover: “Don’t waste your day / and don’t waste my time / Since when did you mind/ that I had a mind?” and recounts a street-corner encounter, “I spit some lame joke, a toothless smile / Give me the answers, or give me some money.”
The important thing here, though, is the music. Young plays guitar with a woodshed simplicity, and Pedigo’s banjo picking is twangy and quick, but never with the annoying panache of some other new-grass acts. The duo doesn’t focus much on virtuosity, but instead rely on simplicity and familiarity. This is not to say, though, that Young and Pedigo hack away at their instruments; rather, they play in a way that allows the song to take on a life of its own, rather than collapsing under the weight of self-righteous fever-pitch soloing.
There’s not much new ground broken here, but the foot-stomping and singing along is so much fun, you hardly mind that The O’s are mostly rehashing old ideas. We Are The O’s may not be far-reaching in scope, or overly complex lyrically, but it’s a comfortable album, and infinitely relatable. As a simpler answer to their indie-folk contemporaries, The O’s are a welcome change of scenery.