a strong debut, a new voice

Poke a Dott (Dot)
Poke a Dott

By Kory Wilcoxson

Less is more, and for William E. Bartley and Poke A Dott, it's a whole lot of a good thing.

Little effort is wasted on this Louisville band's six-song release, from the liner notes to the lyrics. Bartley does not toss words around like confetti, but uses each one with predetermined placement and courageous openness — he's not resigned to hiding his vulnerability behind a pound of fluff.

The number of cooks involved in this tasty broth is also minimal: Bartley wrote all the songs and handles the drums, vocals and piano; John Krauss does some strong guitar work and produces; and Howie Gano engineers and also contributes. But it's Bartley's brew, and by keeping the chefs at a minimum, he can concoct his recipe without fear of interlopers tinkering with the ingredients.

It took a while for me to get into this album, but as I listened a comforting familiarity set in. I began hearing a dreamy Police beat, an early R.E.M. jangly riff and a healthy dose of controlled chaos a la the Jamestown-era 10,000 Maniacs. Toss in the fact that Bartley's musical oven sits on Fifth Street in downtown Louisville, and it becomes much easier to warm up to the album.

With Poke A Dott, Bartley's many talents are on full display. His menu ranges from the drum-driven intensity of "Fade" to the stylish piano opening on "I'm Fine" On the mic, he croons mournful and Bono-like. While he may be short on words, he is not lacking in substance. "Slap to the face, kick to the head/Is that what you think affection is?" he wails on "Tenderness," a song about a relationship turned abusive. Bartley can capture a scene in a few words, making the songs wide-ranging emotionally but musically efficient.

Too efficient at times, as some songs ended when I thought they were beginning to roll. But I'll settle for three minutes of steak as opposed to an hour of hash anytime.