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Big Cats come back
Longstanding Little Rock band releases second half of The Ancient Art of Leaving.
What can be said about The Big Cats’ Two Parts, the second half of the band’s The Ancient Art of Leaving two-album project, that wasn’t said about last year’s first part, High & Low? How much more praise can be heaped upon this Little Rock outfit? More. Much more it seems. All of it well-deserved.
With Two Parts, The Big Cats have once again produced an album of big-sounding guitars meeting even bigger-sounding melodies and energetic, spunky rhythms. The music created is jangly power-pop combined with indie rock and dashes of punk and even unhurried acoustic guitars. There’s nothing too flashy or complex with Two Parts. Just uncluttered rock ‘n’ roll offering a roaring good time. The album is all just one big glorious blast made by four friends.
The story goes that The Big Cats — Burt Taggart on vocals and guitar, Colin Brooks on drums, Jason White on guitar and vocals and Josh Bentley on bass (original bass player Shannon Yarbrough died in 2000) — played their first gig in the kitchen of a Little Rock house on New Year’s Eve in 1993. So they’ve been a band since then, but when it comes to playing as a band and recording music as a band, The Big Cats’ productivity is lacking.
Of course, there is a reason for this: These guys have other jobs. Brooks is the drummer for the Grammy-winning Dan Zanes and Friends. White is the unofficially official fourth member of alternative rock band Green Day. Taggart is the owner of Max Recordings and an architect, and Bentley is a well-known local musician and fellow architect.
But the boys were friends two decades ago, and the guys are still friends today. And when they get together, they play music. This includes at least one holiday season show in Little Rock every year for the last decade or so, and sometimes recording albums, including 2002’s Worrisome Blues and 2006’s On Tomorrow. Then, in early 2011, the band found time and recorded a batch of 25 tunes — mainly at Poynter’s Palace, produced by The Big Cats and Barry Poynter. The first part came out last December with the release of High & Low. The second half was released Election Day as the 13-tracks, 37-minutes of Two Parts.
Two Parts picks up where the first half of The Ancient Art of Leaving left off, literally, with High & Low’s album-ending “Cannot Be” receiving a reprise during the first half minute of Two Parts. It’s here we are reminded, “A man who dreams of nothing is a man who cannot be.” Good advice.
“I Can See Land” is the first proper tune on Two Parts, and the drums rumble in, before disappearing altogether for a few counts and a burst of guitar, and then returning to create the track’s powerhouse rhythm. There’s really no chorus present, just the stick-in-the-mind refrain of “And I can see the stars/And I can see the moon/I can feel the earth and you.” Harmony vocals fold in, drums crash, the guitars explode and the bass bounces, and the result is the sparkling ingenuity of The Big Cats’ sound. This same crash-and-pop rock ’n’ roll sound pops up elsewhere on Two Parts, but each time there’s a new wrinkle in the sound. Witness “Residential Feeling,” the third track. It’s the heavyweight power pop of Cheap Trick, but with some wicked New Order synths adding some unearthly soundscape. The harmonies dive-bomb in during the chorus, and the song becomes a rush of tight rock with a bass line that both props up the rhythm and dances behind it.
“Probably Improbable” shows the first traces of punk rage on Two Parts, mainly in its giddy-up rhythm, but maintains an irresistibly upbeat sound. And somehow Brooks plays his impossible-sounding drum rhythm throughout the tune. “High Up Over The Wall” mixes together acoustic guitars, golden harmonies and an insistent kick drum in creating its gorgeous sound, and “Born Clean” gets down and dirty with its rhythm before White uncorks his guitar, throwing it into overdrive during a solo.
“Don’t Go” is minimal rock before hitting the sunny harmony refrain of “You’ll be winter and I’ll be fall/Just hope you answer when I call,” and “Mr. Memory” is an acoustic ditty that flips a switch, and kicks in synths and a chugging, Crazy Horse riff. The album ends with the superb “Release The Punk.” Three minutes of wild abandonment that postures with classic rock guitars and a request: “Why don’t you release the punk, today?” Good advice, too.
Then Two Parts is all over. The Big Cats don’t waste time in setting up their sublime songs. And that get-in, get-poppy and get-out dynamic makes Two Parts so enjoyable. All we can hope for is more music in the future from this band of friends known as The Big Cats.
SEE THE SHOW
The Big Cats will play White Water Tavern on Saturday with two sets of music. The first set is an all-ages show starting at 6 p.m. with Little Rock punk quartet Bad Years opening. The second set is 21-and-up and starts at 10 p.m. with songwriting master Kevin Kerby opening. No word on cover.
Max Recordings is releasing a limited run of 300 copies of The Ancient Art of Leaving in its three-LP vinyl format, with the first 100 coming in clear vinyl. The vinyl package includes all 25 tunes from both albums, lyrics and a digital download of the complete album. The package is available through thebigcats.bandcamp.com for $25. Digital copies of Two Parts are $9.99 through iTunes.