Jeremy Porter and the Tucos – Above the Sweet Tea Line

Middle-aged one time punk rockers indulging a fetish for Americana music often yield impressive results. Longtime Michigan stalwart Jeremy Porter and his band the Tucos have followed up a strong debut with an impressive ten track collection entitled Above the Sweet Tea Line. It’s equal parts punk, country, straight rock, and blues that synthesizes those seemingly disparate strains into a compelling, unified whole. A rigorous editorial process defines the album as well – it’s a streamlined, dross-free affair that plays like every note placed on trial before the band committed it to recording and benefits further from vibrant, rough-hewn production empathizing the material’s many strengths.

Porter and the Tucos open Above the Sweet Line audaciously. “Josh”, a rollicking ode to a long-since-departed feline, is a masterful piece of song craft that manages to tickle listener’s sentimentality while implying hidden depths. Porter’s vocal plays the track seriously while still retaining immense likability and rock and roll energy. A compressed, sinewy guitar riff propels “Elimination Round” forward with hard-nosed attitude while the rhythm section focuses on pinning down a strong groove. Unlike the opener, Porter overplays the vocal some, but it never dulls the track in a significant way. “Knocked Out Cold” lapses into the lackluster near its end, but initially, the track plays like a dynamic and superbly orchestrated rocker. Porter’s voice is perfect for this material, naturally, but the complete effect of his singing juxtaposed against the music suggests more than merely a strong marriage of vocalist and song. The competing sonic elements dovetail so neatly into each other that it suggests a larger musical vision fully realized with this release.

“Don’t Call Me Darlin’” is the album’s first full-on foray into country music pastiche and, while many will roll their eyes a little at such self-conscious revisiting of longstanding genre tropes, it isn’t hard to hear the band’s loving respect for this music. This isn’t parody or spoof; instead, it’s a practically reverential recasting of the Nashville sound with rawer production and a dollop of clenched fist rock and roll spirit. “Long Story” grabs onto a strong Replacements vibe and holds a listener’s interest, but suffers some from a lack of variety and a groove that doesn’t embed itself in the memory like the album’s best efforts. Based on its title alone, listeners might expect “Sounds like Goodbye” to travel through similar territory as the earlier “Don’t Call Me Darlin’”, but instead Porter and the Tucos’ punk roots show through on another rollicking, uptempo romp. “Sleepy Eyes” is a welcome shift in direction. This acoustic track has much more substantive lyrical content than many of the other tracks and hearing Porter’s voice in such an unvarnished setting is revelatory.

This is a fine release from a band that clearly knows who they are, where they’ve been, and where they’re going. The light, likable confidence and certainty exuding from the album’s 10 tracks gives even the weaker numbers impressive weight. Furthermore, it’s a rarity in that an album clearly crafted for live performance bristles with such immediacy and urgency on a studio recording. Above the Sweet Tea Line will likely end the year as one of 2015’s most impressive indie releases.

9 out of 10 stars.

Joshua Stryde