Aubrie Sellers Celebrates Her Garage Country Debut in New York City: Live Review

In the middle of her show last night (Jan. 27) in downtown Manhattan, the country singer Aubrie Sellers offered a self-assessment -- and maybe a warning: “There’s 14 songs on [my] record and only one of them is sweet.” Those 13 strident tunes and their lone sugary cousin appear on New City Blues, Sellers’ assured first album, which hits shelves on Friday.

Though this is the singer’s debut, she has been steeped in country since birth. Her mother, Lee Ann Womack, has hits and Grammys, while her father, Jason, helps pen tracks for Reba McEntire, Jason Aldean, and Lady Antebellum. Sellers can be heard singing backing vocals on recent albums by David Nail and Miranda Lambert; those were produced by her stepfather, Frank Liddell.

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So it’s not surprising that New City Blues is the work of someone at home with tradition. The album begins with the singer stuck at an iconic location -- the crossroads, a nice nod to the “blues” in the record’s title -- and listeners hear of southbound trains and struggles with depression. Male-female harmonies, a country specialty, are everywhere on the album. Co-writers include Brandy Clark, who is comfortable with a classic sound, and Adam Wright, best known for his work with the genre mainstay Alan Jackson. (Wright is another member of the second-generation country brigade: Jackson is his uncle.) Liddell produced New City Blues, which is punchy and unfussy, though not as varied in sound as other projects he’s worked on recently.

On stage at the Mercury Lounge, Sellers wanted to show some distance from her roots, referring to her sound as “garage country.” Sure enough, the drummer, Jerry Roe, showed a fondness for bashing cymbals and bundles of bass drum. “Sit Here And Cry” channeled the forward shimmy of rockabilly -- garage rock before the term was invented -- and the crude, fuzzy stomp of “Paper Doll” approximated proto-punk.

The band showed other old-fashioned rock aesthetic choices as well. Attire-wise, the dominant colors on stage were black and brown. Sellers didn’t stop to chat much, but when she did, she drew from the rhetoric of nonconformists: “I write about phoniness a lot, and I think these next two songs address my hatred of that.” Cue the bass drum volley.

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But beneath the tough exterior lie stinging country tales of troubled love. Wright was on hand to play lead guitar and join Sellers on vocals; during “Humming Song,” a loping tune about fading romance, the pair sighed repeatedly in tandem. Those long exhales traced the slide guitar lines, suggesting a weary couple held together only by shared unhappiness. In “Like A Rain,” Wright used space to his advantage, letting his riffs dissipate slowly. After all the rocking, Sellers had to tone down her voice to fit the soft contours of an aching story about intractability. During quieter moments, different details were noticeable in the mix: dribbles of cymbals splatting around the bass during “Liar Liar,” a lovely harmonica solo from Jason Goforth during “Something Special.”

“Something Special” conveys some of the fragile intoxication of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon,” and Sellers performed it accompanied only by webs of guitar. “We can go down to the lake, throw off our shoes,” she sang. “Jump into the water like there’s nothing to lose.” But there was no time for reverie: as soon as the track ended, the drummer went back to work, and the beach daydream was replaced by garage squall. That was the sweet one; after that, Sellers had phonies to chase.

Aubrie Sellers - Live At Mercury Lounge Album Review
4 STARS

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