Music Reviews

Americana Album of the Month "Chicago--urban, Midwestern, serious lack of tumbleweeds-- doesn't strike you as a hotbed of Americana, but it's making its case, from alt country godfather Jeff Tweedy to immigrants The Handsome Family. Utah Carol--named after a song sung by Marty "Mr. Teardrop" Robbins about a cowboy who dies trying to save his friend from a stampede--are, like the Handsomes, a husband-wife team, but there the similarity ends. The latter sound like an alcoholic Johnny Cash writing the music for a David Lynch spaghetti western--Utah Carol's take is more Dolly Parton and Minutemen soundtracking a John Ford beach-party movie. A whimsical, engaging mix--alt Appalachia (fine opener My Fear), futuristic surf-folk polka (Toy Train), R&B, country rock--their voices make a nice happy-sad combination. Wonderwheel is an engaging 20-song album."

- Sylvie Simmons, MOJO Magazine UK - October 1999 Issue

Bouncy and frollicksome, the music of Utah Carol a husband and wife duo, is a happy lot, despite whatever sadness seeps into their quieter melodic moments or the mellower vocal moments. Though the band is versatile with various forms of music, from R&B to rock to surf, etc., their heart lies in twangy Americana, as most of the duo's songs feature some form of toe-tappin' country feel, plaintive musings delivered with gentle voices, a little slide guitar, a lot of an acoustic, and a definite reverence for the genre. It's the Americana that ties the album together, but at the same time, it doesn't limit Utah Carol from successfully exploring everything from jangly surf to jingles to damn fine funky grooves. They do it all so economically, too, with only two of the twenty songs stretching beyond three minutes.

- Steve Brydges, 5 Wintry 2001

As I've mentioned before, I like it when a band takes me completely by surprise. Case in point: the opening moments of Wonderwheel suggest that Utah Carol is another starkly melodic alt-country duo...but such is not the case. If Wonderwheel is an alt-country album, it's an alt-country album produced by Van Dyke Parks...which is a pretty interesting concept in itself.

There's a strong, strong pop aesthetic at work here amid all the twang. It's evident in the lush sophistication of the melodies -- "Charmed Life", for instance, adds multiple layers of vocal and instrumental harmony, giving the song a lingering presence. The gentle "Bluejay" enhances Jinja Davis' sing-song vocals with a pervasively bouncy organ drone.  "9:09" borrows its rhythm from reggae, then Americanizes it with vocal layers and Hammond flourishes, while the overtly twangy "Buffalo" goes for Beach Boys-style harmonies.

- George Zahora, 2000

Twintig snoepjes die smelten in je oren. Utah Carol doet zelfs het veel bejubelde Belle & Sebastian af en toe verbleken, zo fraai zijn de korte, vaak dromerige pop-, folk- en country-getinte liedjes die Jinja Davis (dames eerst) en Grant Birkenbeuel in hun appartement in Chicago hebben opgenomen. Het mooie is ook dat je als luisteraar grip hebt op Wonderwheel. De muzieklaagjes laten zich makkelijk ontleden. Een simpel akkoordenschema of riff worden aangekleed met een huppelende bas, eenvoudige ritmes, een romantisch en soms weerbarstig orgeltje, met af en toe een gevoelige slidegitaar en in het verlengde daarvan de zoete, elkaar aanvullende stemmen van Davis en Birkenbeuel. Utah Carol laat horen dat wondermooie muziek niet veel om het lijft hoeft te hebben. Zelden heb ik zo'n aanstekelijk liefdesliedje gehoord als het kale, louter met xylofoo begeleide Me & You.

- Bart Ebisch,Alt Country NL

The basics: Acoustic guitars and Hammond organ. The combination should alert you; this is something unusual. On the surface (and a little deeper) there is a country music thing going on here. It's the kind of country they used to play at the City Line in Harrisburg, where the PBR came in cans only, and when the Zodiacs finished their set at 2 in the morning you could head upstairs to the diner for sausage and home-fries.

- Jeff Coleman,Complicated Kid

About  "My Fear:"

Intriguing lyric that makes you think you've come in halfway. The vocal is a male/female harmony that reallyworks with the lyric, sort of like if George were to join Tammy on D.I.V.O.R.C.E. Sweet and gentle sounds all the way through the spare arrangement, with vaguely disturbing lyrics. It's a mystery to me why everything works so well, but a lot of fun to listen to.

- Jeff Coleman,Complicated Kid

"Utah Carol is the creme of the crop, the good stuff. Interesting instrumental stuff, some of it countryish, all of it very top-notch, I think you'll dig it. Take a chance and buy's worth the money. Simple, well-executed melodies, engaging's a real nice sound."


About "Miles:"

"Ain't that a groove!"

- Richard Milne,WXRT, Chicago

About "Miles:"

"A groovy little number"

- Marty Lennartz___ WXRT, Chicago

Not really country, but not really rock either, more like really nice modern Americana. Happy and quirky tunes and instrumentals pepper this 20-song CD. Very nice--like a day at the fair

- Albert Garzon, Com Four Music

Dreamy girl/boy pop vocals that alternate with droning slide guitar, organ, and country inflections. Imagine falling in and out of love and then sitting in an airport and wondering if it was all really worth it.

- Jon Pruett,

Je zult niet zo gauw een enkele cd vinden waarop wel twintig "tracks" te vinden zijn. Twintig wel heel bijzondere tracks, want Utah Carol maakt dan ook bijzonder muziek die niet onder één noemer te vangen valt. Het album omvat een veelheid aan stijlen waarvan pop, folk, country, blues, R & B er maar enkele zijn. Belangrijk is de combinatie van akoestische instrumenten met Hammond-orgel, in de meeste nummers voorzien van de liefelijke stemmen van het Utah Carol-duo Grant Birkenbeuel en JinJa Davis. Ook staan er een aantal ultrakorte instrumentale stukken op. Gezamenlijk vormen ze "Wonderwheel", een "totaalalbum", waarbij de nummers niet anders gerangschikt hadden kunnen worden. Zet je cd-speler dus niet op "shuffle", maar zie "Wonderwheel" als een smakelijk geheel.

- Ronald Vos, Ron's Alt-Country-Music 2000

This debut album by Chicago duo Utah Carol has a lo-fi alternative-country and folk-tinged sound that is irresistible. A seductive, wistful mood permeates Wonderwheel and infuses the album with a hypnotic quality. With the exception of "Me and You," a beautiful ode to love, with vibes and a heartening vocal performance by JinJa Davis, it's not so much the individual songs on this 20-track set that make it stand out as the sum of its parts. The intimate vocal harmonies of the duo, rounded out by Grant Birkenbeuel, have a languid quality that is at once lulling and engaging. A carnivalesque tapestry of sounds ranging from acoustic guitar, organ, cowbells, and slide guitar to vibes and even whistling adorn simple two- and three-chord song arrangements.

- Michael Wells,

Ihr Sound klinge, als ob ein alkoholisierter Johnny Cash Musik für einen Spaghetti-Western von David Lynch geschrieben habe, notierte eine Kritikerin über die Band Utah Carol. Doch das Duo - das Paar Grant Birkenbeuel und JinJa Davis - nennt als wichtige Einflüsse experimentelle Pop-Alben wie «Pet Sounds» von den Beach Boys und das «White Album» von den Beatles, aber auch Neil Young und Dolly Parton, John Steinbeck und Jimi Hendrix. Akustische Gitarre und Hammondorgel bilden die Basis der von Birkenbeuel und Davis ohne weitere Unterstützung - «all songs produced, arrangend, written, performed and recorded by Utah Carol» - in ihrem Wohnzimmer an Chicagos West Side eingespielten 20 Titel. Dazu gibts Instrumente von Slide-Gitarre bis Kuhglocke zu hören. Prägend sind vor allem Davis' sanfte Stimme und der schleppende Rhythmus. Das ebenso überraschende wie überzeugende Debütalbum klingt mal mehr nach Folkpop, mal nach Countryrock, mal nach Sixties-Pop, hat da den Groove der frühen Cowboy Junkies, dort die Melancholie von Freakwater - aber meist alles miteinander. Und manch ein Titel hat das, was einen guten Popsong letztlich ausmacht: das Zeug zum Ohrwurm.