Contrary to doomsayer rumor, rock music doesn’t need saving. But a wake-up call is long overdue, and this is it. Actually, not just a wake-up call, but a joyous reunion of rock with its oft-forgotten prodigal twin, the roll — with papa blues and mama soul along for the ride, too. All of which makes Pardon Me the perfect introduction to one of the most electrifying young bands in America — or at least the next best thing to experiencing Jonathan Tyler and the Northern Lights live. Literally.
Don’t be fooled by the good Southern manners implied by the title of Pardon Me, the major-label debut by Dallas’ Jonathan Tyler and the Northern Lights. The walloping roundhouse punch of Pardon Me’s lead-off title track and everything else packed into Tyler and Co.’s Texas-sized can of rock ’n’ roll whoopass. “Hey!” Tyler shouts after the opening salvo of guitars lands like a gauntlet slap across the face. “Can you hear me? Can you feel me, coming through your stereo?” Then comes the coup-de-grace, a shot of Hendrix-laced adrenaline plunged deep into the listener’s heart and soul by a diabolically persuasive Dr. Feelgood. “Maybe it’s been too long since rock ’n’ roll turned you on,” sneers Tyler, with equal measures of promise and threat. “So pardon me, just let it set you free.”
And that’s when things get loud.
“We recorded it live,” Tyler says of the Pardon Me sessions in Nashville with producer Jay Joyce (known for his work with Cage The Elephant, John Hiatt, Patty Griffin, Audio Adrenaline, Crowded House). “We were really critical about keeping things in the pocket and giving it a groove, but letting the songs breathe and feel alive was the main thing that was really important to us. And because we’d played those songs so much before going into the studio, for the most part it wasn’t that hard. We didn’t really pull our hair out over any of the songs.”
It’s clear from the finished results — be it storming rockers like “Young & Free” and “Gypsy Woman” or gut-wrenching, slow-burning beauties like “She Wears a Smile” and “Paint Me a Picture” — that the band expended just as much sweat and passion in the studio as they do night after night onstage. Time was when the idea of a band honing its craft and reputation one show at a time was the rule rather than the exception, but in this era of American Idol insta-stars and overnight hipster blog sensations, Tyler and the Northern Lights are a throwback in the best sense of the word. The core lineup of lead singer, guitarist Jonathan Tyler, guitarist Brandon Pinckard, drummer Jordan Cain and bassist Nick Jay may have only made its public debut at the dawn of 2007, but the ensuing three years have been a blur of full-tilt rock ’n’ roll showmanship worthy of prime James Brown and the early Rolling Stones or the E Street Band at their hungriest. The inspired addition of singer Mo Brown to the fold early on pushes the sass and swagger needle into the red, with a supporting cast of horn and organ players on deck when whim or venue calls for even more firepower. But no matter how many people are onstage, the exhilarating energy is the same. And that goes for whether the band’s playing it in front of a few dozen strangers in a bar, a few hundred diehard fans in a packed club or arena crowds in the thousands while opening for heavyweights like AC/DC, ZZ Top, Kid Rock, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Deep Purple.