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coverpic flag US - Tennessee - Full Moon 84 - 08/12/03

Kings Of Leon
Youth & Young Manhood
Handmedown Records

How's this for the birth of a rock 'n' roll band? Three sons of an alcoholic, defrocked preacher, and their first cousin, travel round the Deep South throughout their childhood, forming the vital bonds of the classic gang. Their dad's vocation proves a window into the seedier side of life, as well as a vessel for a great Tennessee tradition of story-telling. Upon finishing their 'schooling', with the eldest only 23, and the youngest just 16, they have their band together, and on their debut album mine a rich seam of deep-fried Southern boogie, with songs of whiskey, prostitutes and transvestites. Youth & Young Manhood makes good on the promise of first singles, "Molly's Chamber" and "Red Morning Light", both featured here. Heralding a kind of 'Southern Strokes', the singles showcased a fine line in riffage, melody and unkempt hair. Those first impressions are fleshed out here, with the drawl of Caleb Followill - a man who sounds roughly 3 times his own age - drawing intriguing, sometimes touching tales of mysterious characters. His voice is part Dylan, especially on the lovely "Joe's Head", and large parts John Fogerty, the lead man of Creedence Clearwater Revival. Consistently unfashionable, Creedence nevertheless provide the template for the Kings' sound - a kind of soulful country rock that really should have no place in the musical climate of 2003. And yet, it sounds vital, genuine, and not the slavish retro-rock it could so easily have been.

"California Waiting" is a ready-made anthem, kind of Lynyrd Skynyrd plays The Strokes. "O Dusty", too, is spot-on, its Little Red Rooster groove spotlighting the band's Southern credentials. These are sometimes obvious - such as Caleb's pronunciation of classic phrases like 'Three o'clock in the mawnin' on the delirious "Happy Alone" - but often they merely prove a platform for the Kings' own thang: the joyously punky "Spiral Staircase"; "Holy Roller Novocaine"'s dark transcendent jam; or the immediacy of those two singles, sub-3 minute pop belters the pair of them.

Kings Of Leon look and sound great. They're like that gang you'd love to have been in when you were 17. They make accessible music that can't date as it's already so old, and may yet yield winning insights into the ongoing tradition of story-telling and the blues. Or, they may just be this year's Great White Hopes. Who cares? Youth & Young Manhood is the sound of 1973, and it'll do just fine.

Copyright © 2003 James Caig e-mail address

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