Two things you need to know before reading this. One: I am not on Zoe Muth's payroll (nor The Lost High Rollers', either). Two: I am not related to any person, real or otherwise, who has any connection with said band. Why do I state this upfront? Because the enthusiasm I feel for Zoe Muth & The Lost High Rollers far exceeds any subjectivity a critic should have.
A friend of mine refers to Muth affectionately as "that country gal" and I know it's true, but only to a degree. Her roots are country and country/folk, no doubt, but I long ago tossed genre aside regarding her music. When I hear it, live or otherwise, it doesn't matter to me. She sings with an ease that puts me at my ease. And I know it's not just me because I attended two shows in a tavern crawling with drinkers out for a good time and more than a few times, she stopped them dead in their tracks. I should say that "they" stopped them in their tracks because I can separate Muth from The High Rollers no more than I can separate John from George, Paul and Ringo. Zoe Muth & The High Rollers are a band. You can hear it, live and on record.
Starlight Hotel is the second album in what I hope will be a long, long string. The first, self-titled, took my breath away and still does when I hear it, which is often. It took me all of a few seconds of You Only Believe Me When I'm Lying to hear that something I so seldom hear—that something so far beyond the norm that it is, on the whole, beyond description as well. Hearing that album first time through took me back to my youth and sitting beside the old console in my parents' house spinning the stack of 45s and 78s they had accumulated, the music coming out of that lone speaker almost as important as the air that I breathed. Songs like The Running Kind and The Last Bus and Never Be Fooled Again washed over me like T. Texas Tyler's version of Jimmy Martin's classic A Beautiful Life and Hank Williams' Never Again (Will I Knock On Your Door) and Lefty Frizzell's Mom and Dad Waltz. All country but, oh, so much more than country.
Starlight Hotel is an extension of that path. Muth comes up with ten more outstanding tunes which mirror, to a degree, those previously recorded. If I Can't Trust You With a Quarter (How Can I Trust You With My Heart) is perfect companion to the first album's You Only Believe Me When I'm Lying, New Mexico every bit as impressive (but no more so) than Never Be Fooled Again and Starlight Hotel on a par with The Last Bus. I shake my head. While Nashville buries itself in what I consider mediocrity, Zoe Muth & The Lost High Rollers go somewhat unnoticed. And I say somewhat because music this good never stays buried. They are finding their audience, one CD and one gig at a time.
Speaking of Nashville, the band is heading that direction this Summer and I have to confess a bit of anxiety. Those East-Coasters love their music and I would not be at all surprised to see them attempting to claim The High Rollers as their own. As much as I would love to see them succeed and as much as they deserve success, I worry. Success has a way of changing people, especially musicians, and I worry that the core of who they are and what they do could change. Then again, change is sometimes good and if anyone can do it and make it work, it would be them.
If they do, I will still have those first two albums. And I don't know why I'm worrying, anyway. Starlight Hotel hasn't been out two months and it will take me two more to memorize every note on it. That is what I do with the good ones. Memorizing music is my photosynthesis. It keeps me alive. Zoe Muth & The Lost High Rollers are now a big part of it.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2011, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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