Named for the late Oxford, Miss., writer Larry Brown, the Missing Cats aspire to the same kind of brutally honest storytelling, set inside a deeply involving mixture of American roots music that once propelled the Band’s best sides.
College buddies Sherman Ewing and JoJo Hermann (of Widespread Panic fame) lead the group, with additional contributions across Larry Brown Amen — due on September 4, 2012, via Two Bone Shoes — from R.E.M.’s Mike Mills, bluegrass legend Sam Bush, and Luther and Cody Dickinson of the North Mississippi All Stars, among others. The results, recorded live over four days in Nashville with Grammy-nominated producer Jon Randall Stewart (Emmylou Harris, Lyle Lovett), are filled with raw excitement, a writerly interest in this world’s chances and its opportunities, and genre-busting instrumental creativity.
Cinematic stories — the title track’s difficult main character who can’t help but run off those he loves the most, the devastating realization of love’s distance in “Highwire,” the dark discovery (and broader implications) of the rollicking “Body in the River” — are matched with a confluence of musical flourishes that sets those ambitions free. From the sweetly conveyed childhood reminiscence of “Rose Parade” to the stomping aggression of “Skydiver,” Larry Brown Amen thrums with sounds from every corner of the American experience: the hard-eyed realism of country and western, the scary realizations of the blues, the quiet resolve of church music, the chest-bursting rhythms of jazz, and the barely contained sexual energy of early rock.
At the same, though, the album seems to get its power not from the things that came before, so much as from the shared sense of camaraderie in rediscovering all of it again together. Friends for some 25 years, Ewing and Hermann play like it — and that, too, recalls the finish-your-sentence sense of community that defined the Band’s early recordings.
These two reunited musically back in 2006, with a subsequent tour in ’09 that combined music from Ewing’s Single Room Saloon and a trio of Hermann solo efforts including 2001′s Smiling Assassin. Those concert-trail experiences the duo shared together no doubt strengthened their friendship’s bond, if Larry Brown Amen is any indication.
They’ve made a personal album, but in the very best sense of the word: The Missing Cats, so full of communal joy, yet so determined to dig down into the truth of things, connect with a natural authority — like listening to stories told around the kitchen table.