An Unexpected Treat

Live at Paste Magazine (iTunes.com)

Live at XM Radio (iTunes.com)

The Muckrakers

By Kevin Gibson

Louisville's the Muckrakers have been writing and performing great pop-rock songs for many years, much to the delight of fans here and in their college home of Bowling Green. As of June 6, the band's first wide release, Front of the Parade, is now available on a full nationwide scale, thanks to Universal Records. And here's the bonus for the folks who are already hip: Two live EP releases, available only through online download at iTunes and Napster.

For most of 2006, the Muck Show has been on the road nationwide, taking its bouncy tunes to other parts of the U.S.A. and spreading the magic. Along the way, the Muckrakers played some side shows that got recorded - one was a showcase for Paste Magazine designed as a downloadable podcast; the other was an appearance on XM Radio (yes, the Howard Stern XM Satellite Radio). These recordings are now available for purchase online and they are worth your download time.

Live at Paste is an acoustic wonder, exposing the band for what it really is: an incredible live act that loses absolutely nothing from CD to stage. Recorded in January, Rob Carpenter and Jon Ruby's vocal harmonies are just as tight and sharp on this live recording as they are on the immaculately produced studio recording.

Song three on Paste is "Working My Way," the song the band credits with getting it signed with Toucan Cove/Label X and the song's emotion comes across so genuinely that it's no wonder they got signed. It's also no wonder they're making inroads in the national scene. (Yes, the band has not only been invited by fan Carson Palmer - quarterback of the Cincinnati Bengals - to play at his personal fundraiser, but the Muckrakers will also play at a September Cincinnati Reds home game, with Carpenter singing the national anthem before the first pitch.) But in the song, Carpenter tells the story of how he found his way back to the love of his life, the girl he fell for during childhood and ultimately married.

This is irresistible stuff. The band's gentle touch is on full display here and it offers a glimpse into the heart of the material. Carpenter asks the crowd to sing along and the aforementioned "Working" becomes a must-dance experience - much like at the band's live shows.

Live at XM Radio, recorded last November, comprises seven tunes, five from Parade, in a similarly intimate format (although with no audience) and this time with plugged-in instrumentation. The guys kick off with the album opener "Cigarettes & Magazines" and don't let up - and the sound quality is outstanding. This is a quintet so accustomed to playing together that the result sounds almost effortless.

The Muckrakers wind through highlights like "Through My Door," "Hold On," "Slip Away" and "Warning Sign," offering insights to the song origins along the way, as well as a strange story about a cat bite and a newly-invented superhero. They then launch into "Fool," a live show staple that tells a captivating story about a relationship that is still alive but is not well.

An extended (and rocking) version of "Working" is next, then the show ends with a cover of Crowded House's "Weather With You," featuring Carpenter's so-so William Shatner impersonation as a lead-in.

When it's all said and done, these are primarily vehicles aimed at fans - something for those who've been attending the Muck Show around Kentucky for the last several years. But it's also evidence of a band that has evolved into something special. I don't want to jinx the Muckrakers, but it almost gives one insight to what it must have been like to have been a Cavern Club regular only to see a band called the Beatles take off strangely and unexpectedly.

Yeah, that's an exaggeration, but ask any Muckrakers fan and they'll agree: It's great to see your hometown band make good, but bittersweet to think they may not come back to play for you again for a while. If nothing else, they've given us these recordings to tide us over.

Stop by www.themuckrakers.com to get the rest of the story.