What a difference two decades makes.
Twenty-plus years ago, Kristi Callan and her sister Kelly were part of an engaging pop-rock band called Wednesday Week (their first elpee was subject to a recent much-needed reissue on the Noble Rot label). Today, WW's lead singer Kristi is fronting a five-woman country band called Dime Box for Kelly's indie label, Avebury Records.
DB's debut disc, Five and Dime Waltz, has recently come out, and while it doesn't sound much like Wednesday Week, the songwriting smarts of both Callan sibs and former bandmate David Nolte continue to show through – as does Kristi's open-hearted straight-talking singing voice.
The band's sound is pure backporch country: acoustic guitar and bass, lightly brushed percussion, plus omnipresent fiddle and/or mandolin. Kristi tackles the lead vocals, while three of her bandmates add warm, uncomplicated harmonies. There's not a trace of Nashvillian slickness to be found on this disc, which suits the music's honest lyrical approach.
Where the younger Callan/Nolte/Callan songwriting triumvirate crafted tracks reflecting the angst and confusion of their songs' young heroines, the Dime Box juke proves more maturely rueful: songs about the aftermath of divorce, the travails of single motherhood, and just plain wishin' you knew then what you know now. If at times, the words get a little too homiletic (e.g., "honest work will see you through"), the energetic music (lotsa credit to guitar picker Yolande Ng, and hoe-downy fiddler Edie Murphy here) lifts you past it.
The best tracks (nine originals, plus a dulcet Dolly Parton cover) contain plenty of telling detail and empathy: the goofy friend who repeats the same Dollar Store joke, the struggling mama buying day old bread, the well-behaved stick-in-the-mud who didn't smoke or drink – but "sure could complain."
In "Mama," Kristy looks back at her My Mother, Myself relationship with more experienced eyes. In "Nobody," she describes just how wearing and rewarding it can be for two lovers to stick together. In the blue-grassy "Bone to Pick," she gives a no-nonsense kiss-off to a no-good lover ("I want you up and gone by the end of this song."). This may be a critical cliché, but in this case, it appears to hold true: if rock 'n' roll is all about adolescent possibility, country is about living with restrictions, about trying to find snatches of happiness within the struggles of the day-to-day.
Dime Box is about finding the music in those fleeting moments – and playing it in a pure, enjoyably unvarnished style.