Mile

Driving Under Stars

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Singer/songwriter/guitarist Noel Hartough is an American Southerner and an anglophile whose taste runs to 1980s rock bands like U2 and the Smiths that served as the mouthpieces for idiosyncratic lead singers; Mile does the same thing for him. Singing over melodic, midtempo, guitar-driven rock, Hartough adopts the often ethereal, elliptical writing style of his predecessors, but his imagery is that of the South, with its heavy drinking, old-time religion, guns, and cars, so even though it usually isn't clear exactly what his lyrics are talking about, his words are evocative of his world and reflect the consistent sensibility of a young man struggling with emotional relationships, spiritual yearnings, and good-old-boy temptations. If R.E.M. was a Southern band that never really seemed Southern except in its mood of stately dislocation, Mile is more overtly Southern, but still touched with an alienation that is particular to Hartough's world view. "Just get in the car," he urges in the album's final song, "(In the Mood For) Johnny Cash," "go far away," closing the album with an image of escape after beginning it with "Back to the Floor," a paean to drinking as a means of social interaction, which is only another form of escape. In between, he tries to charge his observations of nature and disappointed romance with emotional force, but remains relatively uninvolved. Meanwhile, the band churns along behind him, creating music that is consistently engaging without ever becoming really compelling. Driving Under Stars is a promising first effort from an artist who hasn't quite figured out what he wants to say or how he wants to say it, but is nevertheless expressing ideas in inchoate form. To develop, he will have to commit himself, and since his first batch of songs is all about avoiding commitment, it will be interesting to see if he can. (Driving Under Stars is a CD Extra, its CD-ROM content being a brief interview with Hartough and a video of the song "Sunday Morning.")

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