Local Love: Dollie Barnes
It feels like, when you first hear something that grabs you by the heart, that you can become so enamored with it, that it becomes hard to describe. That’s kind of how it felt the first time that I heard Houston’s Dollie Barnes. On request from Chase Hamblin to check out the band, the voice of a songbird echoed across the crowded hollows of Continental Club. Since then I’ve watched the band grow from there to performing all over the place, embarking on a tour of the West coast with The Donkeys, to finally releasing their debut album, Caught In A Phase. Rarely can I say it was worth the wait, but boy was it. The album packs a punch from start to finish, and the engineering from Steve Christensen is only highlighted by the mastering from Heba Kadry. Buckle in, this record will definitely take you for a ride of ups and downs that you’re never ready for it to stop.
Opening with the lounge heavy sounds of “Phantom Joke,” Barnes sweetly hops onto the song with the vocals that are as angelic as the meandering build of the song itself. The bridge is about as strong as you’ll hear coming from one of the bigger music markets, while the band teases you with a chorus that hits with intent when it finally comes in. Peppered throughout are guitar stabs, a boppy bass line, and snappy drums that get complimented by electronic keys that just move things along as melodically as Barnes own vocals. They follow this with the punchy sound of “Don’t Fall Asleep.” The song, found exclusively below so you can get an idea of what I’m saying, is masterfully performed. You quickly realize that while Barnes can serenade you with her voice alone, she can also summon the rock gods when she wants. You’re in her power while you hang on to each and every note while the band plays varying crazed notes as Barnes glues it all together with her powerful vocals. The changes in the song are something else as well while things take a turn you’ll never expect while never feeling foreign in their approach.
This is followed by the soft and simple notes of “Chandelier.” The way this band can create a build is like no one else in Houston, complete with these ritualistic rhythms that work while throwing your ears for a loop. The various notes from all of the employed instruments in the band that dance like a symphony from another world in the background are so different, that it’s hard not to see this group blowing up. This has the diverse and throwback rock of “Doesn’t It Matter” coming in afterwards reminding you of the melodies from bands like Fleetwood Mac and The Eagles, while not really sounding like either. The slow and dreamlike notes of “Weighted” makes its way onto the album, thus diversifying the sound from a band that’s already vastly different from everyone else. The torch burner really shines the light on the strengths of the band in pretty much any situation. The subtle nuances in every note while Barnes sings with such weight, make it one of the most different on the release. One of the many standouts on the album, “How Can I Help You,” follows next and should quickly bring back feelings of seventies rock while the band utilizes a subtle charm between the guitars, creating tobacco laced melodies as Barnes cuts through them with a vocal prowess that cannot be deterred. Sounding like a track being performed on a sweltering night between the past and present, it’s easily one of the best of the album while the build up the group crafts is so intense, that you can almost feel your heart leap from your chest as the tracks reaches its peak.
This comes out again a couple of tracks later on “Bated Breath,” where the band keeps those sweet seventies rock vibes going strong. More in pop song structure in sequencing, the subtle instrumentation offers up a different narrative than that of the everyday pop track. Here Barnes vocals sound more terse and really sync well with what’s happening in time with the music, while also breaking free at times like a caged bird longing for freedom. The slow burn of “Taking All Day” will definitely tug at your heartstrings with the faint subtleties between Barnes’ vocals and the rest of the band. The bond between the drums and the guitar is only met with an accompanying backing vocal track that ghostly sways on and off the song before Barnes cuts through it all with her voice at its strongest like she’s attempting to break down a wall with its force. Things get closed off by another memorable track with “Caught In A Phase of A Dream.” Here, the band takes a new direction while not steering too far from the rest of the album. There’s a distinctly different approach on the track that feels like the proper way to say goodbye. Keys that occasionally pop in and out while a drum beat that’s fierce continually snaps in the background gets crossed by Barnes’ vocals at their strongest. Finding a way to drop a falsetto into a song that meanders like a story from another time, the song is almost like something you’d have heard from Liverpool, this is Dollie Barnes playing to the strengths of all the group’s elements. The pace of the song alone makes it hard to forget, as I found myself remembering every little note after the first listen.
There’s something magical you can hear when this band gets together. While echoing the past and never mimicking it, Dollie Barnes offers up a sound that’s familiar while keeping you invested from start to finish. The end result is an album that was easily worth the wait and one that should find its way onto many turntables and through laptop speakers for years to come. You can get your hands on the new Dollie Barnes album on Friday February 17 when the band headlines a set at Houston’s Rockefeller’s. The show featuring opening performances from El Lago and Young Mammals is all ages with doors at 8 pm and a $10 cover. The band will also be appearing at this year’s Houston Whatever Fest on April 1 and 2.