Mermaid Avenue lives up to their name on ‘Sugartown’
I had a feeling I’d love Mermaid Avenue before I even heard one of their songs.
The Australian band is named after the classic albums of Woody Guthrie lyrics brought to life by Americana legends Wilco and British folk singer Billy Bragg. They set a lofty goal by naming themselves after such landmark albums, but they certainly deliver, especially on their latest, Sugartown.
Mermaid Avenue released their first album, Temptation and the Half Truth, in 2018. The varied Americana and indie rock of its ten songs already showed the bands potential, especially catchy, R.E.M. tinged lead single “Effigy” and the emotive title track. While implied touchstones of a band called Mermaid Avenue would be the rootsier side of Wilco, Uncle Tupelo, and other alt.country acts, they’re often more in an indie rock/R.E.M. type vein, or at the very least a combo platter of indie rock and Americana.
Since the release of Temptation and the Truth, Mermaid Avenue have released an incredible ten singles, and they are compiled on Sugartown.
The catchy, singalong heartland rock of “Turn the Page” begins the album with emotion and energy. The instrumentation is classic Americana, featuring crunchy slide guitar and tasteful piano. It reminds me of a handful of classic tracks from Son Volt’s debut Trace, as does the next track on Sugartown, “Philosophy.” Warning: both will get stuck in your head.
Among the many things that Mermaid Avenue does well is avoid the traps of so-called “Outlaw Country.” Instead of leaning on the same tired tropes, and trying too hard to sound edgy, they evoke classic Americana and heartland rock effortlessly. Good examples of this include moody “California,” the darkly tinged acoustic rock of “Evelyn,” and “Moments of Regret.”
The biggest strength of Sugartown is its variety of sounds and approaches. One of the great things about Americana is that there are so many different directions you can go in, and the album is a testament to that, from poppier moments like “Old with You” to more introspective tracks like “Don’t Settle for Pain” and the closing title track.
When you name your band after a legendary album, you better be able to back it up. Mermaid Avenue does this on Sugartown.