Not Just Banjo Pickin' and Guitar Strummin'

Louisville is for Lovers 5 (Double Malt Records)
Various Artists

By Sean Hoban

The magic of the Louisville scene is that its best musicians don't fit neat musical categories. From the punky Elvis-Costello-meets-the-Police sound of the Pine Club to the haunting Flaming Lips-meets-Neil-Young sound of My Morning Jacket, Louisville bands tend to cross styles. Maybe there is something about this town - birthplace of Slint and Hunter S Thompson - that sparks a mixed-up form of artistic and lyrical excellence. Perhaps there is something in the humid air and the muddy waters of our creeks, something that makes Louisville, well, weird.

For five years, visual artist and Louisville native John King has culled some of Louisville's more eclectic sounds for the Louisville is for Lovers series. Each year, he petitions up-and-coming and established local bands to donate a love-themed song exclusively for the compilation. Then, under his Double Malt Music label, King produces the CDs, designs the packaging (this year's looks like a hand-made Valentine) and distributes them to local stores such as the Cherry Bomb and Ear X-tacy. Past runs (such as 2002, featuring VHS or Beta and Elliott) have sold over 1,000 copies a year. This year's hot seller is doing well and in addition has sparked a handful of local shows featuring the compilation's main bands.

As with past years, this disc contains a mix of known and unknown acts. One of Louisville's current finest, A.M. Sunday, provides an opening rush of funk, soul and sexy rhythm and blues on "5 star," after which the Pine Club and My Morning Jacket toss in a couple equally genre-defying tracks. Listen closely towards mid-record and you'll hear some ambitious R.E.M.-esque guitars like those on Boundless and Starstruck's "You Bring the Sunday" The cataclysmic Reading, contributing a smart track that unabashedly wears its catchy, head-nodding beat on its sleeve, may remind you of the Dandy Warhols. Once you add the outrageous "Bumble Ass" by Team Toronto, the cool slick raps of "Jennifer" by Crash ("I feel just like Sid Vicious when he met Nancy") and the unpolished garage rock `n' roll of Ronnie Mac and the I'll Beat Your Back Out Band, LI4L has more than enough audio ingredients to satisfy your desire for something new and original.

In addition to this indie pop, there is also some Kentucky bluegrass-influenced music. Songwriting reminiscent of John Prine stands out, such as Ama on "Sick of This": "I'm too old to be alone on the floor playin' record /Despite what I'm told the future looks checkered... / Don't want to be a star, just want a family and a farm." Later, Joe Manning keeps his voice just this side of breaking on the traditional "I Know You Rider" - "I laid right down, I tried to take my rest / But my mind kept on wanderin' like the wild geese in the West." Additional lyrics like "Spoon fed liquid fire and constant fear of death.../ Can't say I mind Lord, can't say I mind," ("Red Prescription," Jamie Barnes and Will Cummings) confront the subtle fatalism of the South with the same poignancy that Flannery O'Conner did with literature.

On track four, Follow the Train whispers a haunting but simple image that sums up the compilation: "Kentucky is beautiful, Kentucky is our home." Mostly about love of life, the countryside, women and music, LI4L No. 5 is a lovely comfort to any native of the Ohio Valley area and a jolt of style and talent that will surprise those unfamiliar with our charm and appeal.