- The Devon McGarry Band, Nothing but Noise EP
When I was a kid, I thought all bar bands were like the Jeff Healey Band in Road House. The vision of beleaguered musicians just trying to get through a 12-bar blues song while inebriated rednecks flung beer bottles at them stuck with me. I was truly disappointed when the dive bar I got into with my brand-new fake ID didn't resemble the Double Deuce in the 1989 Patrick Swayze movie. No chicken wire around the stage; no tough-as-nails bar band. In fact, it was a cover band playing Ronnie Milsap songs. Welcome to real life, teenage Chris.
No, the real bar bands are much more akin to the Devon McGarry Band. The Burlington-based four-piece has gigged around the area since 2016, releasing two EPs and several live records. Over the years, the band has refined a roots-rock sound, centered on McGarry's straightforward, '90s alt-rock-flavored compositions.
With Nothing but Noise, McGarry and his cohorts — Jeffrey Messina on guitar and keyboard, Mitch Terricciano on bass guitar, and Rich Armstrong on percussion — attempt to capture their live sound in the studio. The no-frills production, courtesy of Jeff "Coop" Cooper (Fire vs. Coop) at Vibesville Studios, focuses on representing a live rock band and keeping McGarry's vocals up front in the mix.
It's a good tactic. The band has solid rock chops and a rapport from years of gigging, but some of the songs on Nothing but Noise rarely do more than form a soundtrack. Opener "Swinging Ship" is an acoustic, mid-tempo rocker that features a rousing chorus and nice vocal harmonies from McGarry and Messina. There's a hint of Southern rock, with Messina ripping solo after solo of wah-wah-heavy guitar, but the tune falls flat.
"What You Got" starts with Terricciano and Armstrong laying down an ominously cool groove before the song moves into the kind of blues and funk that cancel each other out. Only slightly funky and tangentially bluesy, the song sounds like the product of a focus group that tried to fit several pleasing genres together.
McGarry is a strong vocalist with a keen sense of melody, which comes to the fore on "Southern Exchange"; one of the five-song EP's stronger cuts, it tells the story of a particularly bad bender. "It's a luminescent taste / This whole room is starting to fade / Splash something upon my face / Because I can't take this Southern Exchange," McGarry sings as his band indulges in some gritty rock and roll.
"Light On" and "Nothing but Noise" close out the record, the former a ballad, and the latter another easy bar rocker. You can hear the interplay between McGarry and his band, which gives the sense that these songs likely kill live. All the cuts on Nothing but Noise are well played and composed with skill, but you get the feeling that they'd hit a lot harder after a few cold ones at the Double Deuce.
Nothing but Noise is available at devonmcgarry.bandcamp.com. The band plays On Tap Bar & Grill in Essex Junction on Friday, February 18. Alas, there won't be any chicken wire covering the stage.