The Southern Belles have crafted an enthralling album of songs that perfectly capture the spirit and flavor of seventies progressive rock while avoiding the pitfalls of derivation and imitation with their latest release, In the Middle of the Night. Leaping from style to style with smile-inducing confidence, The Southern Belles created a perfect playground for themselves on their third record, and watching them explore it is truly and thoroughly enjoyable. There seem to be no limits in the realm of their musical imagination; only an endless landscape of possibilities and stylistic combinations as far as the eye can see.
The first track—”Everywhere I”—kicks in with a dizzying speed, swirling at a breakneck pace that makes the tunes brief pause feel like a welcome release. When Tommy Booker‘s space funk organ first jumps in, the band’s sonic diversity makes the time change seem natural and appropriate. There is a danger in highly technical music, in that the spirit or soul can be lost in the drive to go faster and turn sharper. Guitarist Adrian Ciucci easily manages to retain enough human inflection with everything he does, dancing on the edge and creating truly engrossing jams without ever seeming sterile.
As you listen, it quickly becomes obvious that The Southern Belles take great care to keep themselves grounded in the humanistic application of their whip-smart time changes and intricate solos, as is displayed on the rapid but heartfelt “Deja Vu.” After the furious pace of the first two tracks, the languid opening of “LA Moves” comforts as it builds, like the sunrise it is meant to evoke. Again, the lyrical content is perfectly underscored by the music itself, a trick the band seems to have perfected. Imagery, tempo, and tone are united in an alchemy of storytelling that is impressive and completely engulfing.
On “Tryin,” the album’s longest and most energetic track, The Southern Belles appear to revel in their respective roles. Drummer Aaron Zarrow seems to view his job of creating a pocket as simply a portion of his overall workload. Tracks like “The Lever” see Zarrow lay down fills and displaying an innate understanding of genre conventions that is quite impressive. Bassist Derrick Englert shares the “more is more” philosophy without ever stepping on toes or hogging the spotlight. The balance of The Southern Belles is only possible through the obvious respect everyone seems to have for the skills of their band mates.
The band expounds one last time on the virtues of freedom while demonstrating the variety of ways they themselves practice what they preach on “Everywhere II.” The Southern Belles view their core sound as a result of devil-may-care divergence, not a charted destination, and In the Middle of the Night bravely showcases the impressive results that can come from a band this skilled when they create without fear or doubt.