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Music

SVM Music Review: On self-titled 3rd record, Rock Eupora remains worthy of breaking big (Grade: A)

August certainly has not been the dog days of summer for new alternative rock releases.

So far, with only 3 of 5 release weeks in the books, August has produced four records that are in my Top 15 for the year so far. I’m no math whiz, but I know that’s a disproportionate number.

One of those records, “Future Me Hates Me,” the catchy pop rock debut from New Zealand’s The Beths, will be in the running for my favorite record of the year. Two others – “Nearer My God” by Foxing, and “Be the Cowboy” by Mitski – will almost certainly be among the Top 25 at year’s end.

I’ll write a little more about those bands when it’s time to review the best of August. Today, I want to write about one of my favorite bands that I’ll bet hasn’t yet been on your radar – Rock Eupora.

One of this month’s releases was the 22-plus-minute song “Play,” by Dave Grohl. On it, the Foo Fighters’ frontman plays all seven instruments – guitars, drums, keyboards, even a little tambourine. The musical product is solid, but not spectacular. For the most part, critics seem to be going gaga over the fact Grohl can do it all.

And while that’s impressive, I had to chuckle a little when I read those reviews. I was thinking, heck, my man Clayton Waller does that on every song on every record!

Who’s Clayton Waller, you ask? He’s the frontman, wingman, and backing band for Rock Eupora – named after a town “nearby” Waller’s hometown of Jackson, Mississippi. I checked Google Maps; the towns are about 123 miles apart.

On Rock Eupora recordings, Waller handles the songwriting, performing and producing. He excels at each task.

Rock Eupora’s latest offering, released Aug. 3, is a self-titled third album. It follows the 2014 stellar debut, “Blanks,” and “Soon the Sun Will Come,” which was among my favorite records of 2016.

I’d be hard pressed to say “Rock Eupora” tops “Soon the Sun Will Come,” because I enjoy both equally. But, at least, it’s on par.

In the blurb I wrote in 2016 about “Soon the Sun Will Come,” I described Rock Eupora’s sound as an interesting, bouncy brand of fuzz pop, with a Southern flair. That holds true on Waller’s latest release. I’ll add there are little touches throughout of late ’50s, early ’60s guitar twang.

“Rock Eupora’ might emphasize the deceptively catchy choruses Waller writes – listen to his records two or three times, and I guarantee you songs will be stuck in your head – a bit more than the hard-driving guitars. Waller uses the guitar as essentially a second vocalist. The guitar hooks stick with you as much as the choruses.

On “Rock Eupora,” Waller also works a little more with his backing vocals, adding a dimension to songs like “Sun” and “It’s Gonna Get Better,” which are highlights of the record.

Another thing Waller does that so many other musicians neglect is to take each song in interesting, often unexpected directions. He clearly pays attention to the minor details in his songs. That pays off in multi-layered winners like “All I Need” and “People in My Head.”

The record closes with two of Waller’s most beautifully written songs yet, “Eternity” and “In The Morning.”

If you haven’t yet listened to Rock Eupora, I urge you to do so. When Waller plays live, he travels with a band. We caught them at Theo’s Java Club in Rock Island in early 2016. The band was up this way that day to record a Daytrotter session, which is definitely worth a listen.

They don’t head north very often, so you’ll have to keep an eye out for them. And maybe if more of us give them a listen, they’ll get up here a bit more often!

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