Queen Sarah Saturday – Weave (1994)

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by Nick DeRiso

Coming as this debut rock release did, amidst the mid-1990s’ copy-cat grungery, it’s still a wonder “Weave” is any good at all.

Chalk that up to Queen Sarah’s ceaseless woodshedding, said then to take place from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day in the basement of drummer Zeke Hutchins’ parents’ house. Oh, and playing everywhere that would have them.

A case in point here is found on “Some Words,” where the guitar washes over the tune before ebbing perfectly for the voice of Johnny Irion (pictured above). He’s sweet, then a little snotty, then soaring and true. All within the confines of one lyric. Then comes this: A completely realized fade that matches his swirling vocal tangle with building guitars, only to dissipate expertly into a single note.

It’s not the only moment worth mentioning on “Weave,” just about all that’s left of a band that began as a youthful aside in 1990 at Durham, N.C.’s Northern High and peaked five years later when the driving teen anthem “Seems” (embedded below) was included in the film “Empire Records.”

Issued on Sony’s Thirsty Ear alterno-label, this recording boasts a pleasing affinity for the upfront rock-song cycle then expands on this initial aspiration, skillfully advancing a folk undertone with tough electric guitar and an eye for the inventive. (Appropriately, Irion — after Queen Sarah Saturday splintered in the latter part of the decade — married and then began touring with Sarah Lee Guthrie, daughter of singer-songwriting troubadour Arlo and granddaughter of folk icon Woody.)

The smeared vocal that opens “Zoom” edges unabashedly into 1960s-era experimentation. “Seems,” of course, goes from lonely whisper to a pleasing scream. “Water” begins with a Southern-fried twin lead then turns right around with a jazzy Wes Montgomery-type riff by Ryan Pickett before an explosive statement of purpose, complete with a full-throated gasp of the tune title.

Coming as it did in a time when too much of the so-called alternative music was becoming interchangeably rote, Queen Sarah Saturday didn’t echo the prevailing vibe so much as add a downhome psychedelic addendum. This was one that got away.

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