Seattle-based Vaudeville Etiquette, the brainchild of Tayler Lynn and Bradley Laina, enter an increasingly crowded scene of acoustic/folk/roots-oriented bands. Debutantes & Dealers is their debut record, produced by Barrett Martin (Screaming Trees, Mad Season, Walking Papers, Tuatara), and over the course of its 13 songs they demonstrate they are inspired rather than imitators crashing a trendy party. The duo serve as principle vocalists and songwriters for the band, rounded out by Sander Vinberg on upright bass, Bryce Gourley on drums, and Matt Teske on pedal steel.
Things get off to an impressive start with the opening track which is also the first single, "Blood & Bone," and it's a perfect choice for both roles, presenting many of the sonic elements at the band's core without showing all their cards. We get beautiful harmony, lyrical pedal steel, and a stomping, polyrhythmic groove housed inside a well-crafted song with an excellent hook.
Tayler Lynn shifts the sound briefly on the next track, taking the band into pure country on "Pick Me Up," bolstered by great harmonica work and some down-home steel guitar from Teske.
The masterpiece, "Devil's Daughter," follows, sporting a sinister swagger and haunting harmonies by Lynn and Laina. The insistent intensity and mild shifts in dynamic create a wicked dissonance and they don't release you until the repeated refrain of "No second chances." It's too late for the tempted one in the song, now forever damned, and for we, the listeners, hooked by the power of the song.
"Red Harvest Moon" achieves the autumnal atmosphere implied by its title with percussion shakers and vibraphones (played by Martin) accenting acoustic strums and tremolo mandolin. Laina's voice is pushed forward in the mix with Lynn providing harmonies that make having your chest filled full of lead seem a beautiful and darkly romantic fate.
The roles reverse on "Oh" as Lynn steps out front. The warmth of her voice is the heart of the song, describing a yearning that can't be captured in words but can be felt and understood by anyone who hears. Laina provides a lovely counter and there is beautiful interplay between Vinburg's upright bass and Martin's vibes, augmented by tremolo mandolin.
"What Better Time" is gentle and immediate, evoking sentimental, sweet, mournful, and nostalgic feelings just from the opening notes of the accordion in the intro. The track becomes a stirring, emotional anthem as wordless harmonies soar against the eruption of the polyrhythm of created by acoustic guitar and percussion.
The devastating beauty of "Enemy Lines" and playfulness of "Bathtub Gin" are equally at home on this deep record and it's that mix of songwriting, skill, and heart that elevate Debutantes & Dealers to the loftiest of heights. These songs and the passionate performances remind us why the trendy return to acoustic, organic music is a welcome one. This may be the debut of the year and will easily be one of 2014's best albums.