“LA 14” EP – Rod Melancon

4 stars (out of 5)

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Rod Melancon ScrollerSpringsteen did it with Asbury Park NJ and, much more recently, Michael McDermott’s band The Westies did it with Chicago. They created a strong sense of place with characters and incidents directly observed or based on reality. On his EP “LA 14”, Rod Melancon has gone down the same route with his own little corner of Louisiana. Of the five songs on “LA 14” (produced by former Dwight Yoakam guitarist, Brian Whelan), four are stories of life in a small town deep in the American South.

The opening song, “Perry”, is a mid-tempo rocker with a pumping synth bass, telling the tale of the town’s bad boy, before the tempo slows and the time signature changes to ¾ for “Dwayne and Me”, a look back at a childhood friendship ended by Vietnam. “Lights of Carencro” is a menacing and grungy, the production matching the story of sudden death and delayed revenge before the final song “By Her Side” slows the pace to tell the love story of a lonely old man, the melancholy feel enhanced by some delicate pedal steel from Marty Rifkin. The central song, “A Man like Me Shouldn’t Own a Gun” contrasts with the rest of the EP, as an uptempo thigh-slapping piece to make sure the atmosphere doesn’t get too maudlin.

The feeling in the songs doesn’t just come from the lyrics; they’re often pretty matter-of-fact. Rod’s voice, older than its years, seemingly always on the verge of cracking, and some superb playing from Marty Rifkin on “By Her Side” and Brian Whelan’s steadily-rising solo on “Dwayne and Me”, are powerful and emotive; you can’t listen to these songs and not be moved. Rod Melancon understands that the little details add to the pathos; “Lights of Carencro” is more powerful because we know that the dead brother’s favourite song was Bad Company’s “Feel Like Making Love” and it’s always there as a reminder.

There’s a darkness on the edge of this town and Rod Melancon’s songs expose it, but they also capture the human touch that’s always just below the surface. LA 14 -- running all the way from pure pathos to supernatural menace.

“LA 14” is released in the UK on Friday June 17th on Blue Élan Records (BR1015).

Here’s the video for “Perry”: