Long distance relationships are notoriously difficult. Even in our technological age, with myriad methods of instantaneous communication, great commitment and affection is required to keep a relationship alive and healthy despite the intervention of geographical distance. Jody Stephens and Luther Russell obviously share a commitment to, and affection for, their musical relationship; Those Pretty Wrongs. Stephens is based in his native Memphis, where he manages the famous Ardent Studios, while Russell hangs his hat, when he’s not touring his solo work, in Los Angeles some 1600 miles away.
They paired up when Stephens asked Russell to join him for some performances to promote Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me, a documentary film about Stephens’ influential, but commercially unsuccessful, band, Big Star, in which he played drums. The promotional performances soon became a song-writing collaboration as the two felt a chemistry, and so Those Pretty Wrongs was born. Musically, Those Pretty Wrongs, the duo’s debut album, is a seamless blend of Stephens’ power-pop and the folk elements of Russell’s work, with Stephens’ taking on the role of lead vocalist for the first time in his career.
Overall I was left thinking of bands like Meat Puppets or Ween, in their less noisy moments, and I believe Stephens youthful – he is 63 after all – and charmingly imperfect singing voice is responsible for this association. Singles Ordinary – which opens the album – and Lucky Guy are suitably strong songs, with the latter sure to gain high-rotation on easy-listening playlists, but the album really belongs to Thrown Away and Never Goodbye, songs with a romantic bent and a solid indie vibe. Empty City, sets aside the acoustic guitars in favour of piano, which is employed to generate a sense of grandiosity, and The Cube is delightfully askew and is best described as power-pop on acid.
The musical world is certainly the better for Stephens’ and Russell partnering up as Those Pretty Wrongs, and they have delivered an airy, spacious debut album, but there is a little something lacking – perhaps a touch of the grittiness present in Russell’s other musical endeavours. This lack means that Those Pretty Wrongs is plenty pleasant, but not particularly memorable once the music stops playing. In all likelihood Those Pretty Wrongs will be listened to, and remembered, by the music geeks of the world only.