Residential Address: The Mellows Bring Sixties Pop to Sagebrush
With a focus on good hooks, the band makes falling in love danceable again
Reviewed by Gary Lindsey, Fri., March 4, 2022
Sagebrush, Sundays, 9pm
The main stage of the Sagebrush is tastefully framed in red velvet curtains that could have easily been stolen from the set of Gone With the Wind. Low-light vintage chandeliers, hanging from the ridge beam over the dance floor, make you want to two-step even if you've never tried. It almost feels like the dusty, old, hardwood floors will somehow do the dancing for you.
The silhouette of a Terlingua-inspired skyline rolls softly in your periphery, suggesting it might be time to get down from your horse, build a fire, and set up camp for the night. This is perfectly offset by the sound of Black Sabbath roaring from the jukebox, making sure you don't get too lost in your Howard Hawks fantasy.
Colton Turner, lead singer and rhythm guitarist for the Mellows, who hold down the Sunday night dance duties, seems to have been destined for this wave of déjà vu in today's Americana underground. He and his brother Zane, the band's co-founder and lead guitarist, were born just outside of Bakersfield, Calif., a city so known for its twangy, hard-driving brand of country music that it became its own category. The Bakersfield sound is in Turner's DNA and by the time Colton was just 20, he and his brother had their sights set on Austin.
Before he was even old enough to drink a Lone Star beer, he was headed for the Lone Star State.
Just as "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" fades out from tales of "Living just for dying/ Dying just for you," a slow, quarter-step bassline begins from the stage. The rhythm starts picking up and, seemingly from out of nowhere, the rest of the band joins in. Dancers immediately appear on the floor, not even sure if this is the beginning of their set or just the soundcheck – which it was.
It's as though they have been waiting for this all day.
With a simple "1-2-3-4," that band rolls into a lively tearjerker about unrequited love called "Yes I Do," and the Bakersfield connection is cemented for the next two minutes and 24 seconds, but with a more pronounced rock & roll backbeat. Seats are cleared, drinks are covered, and boots of many shades glide across the floor in two-four time. Although this song's technically about heartache, the dance floor is a swirl of smiles.
Any and all quality rock & roll should take a listener back to at least some part of the Sixties – that pivotal decade when it blossomed from a backwoods stew of revved-up honky-tonk music and fervent gospel hymns into the monolith soundtrack for a cultural revolution. But the Mellows seem to harbor in the bay of that transitional point in 1966 when things took a hard turn from the wonderful simplicity of Elvis shaking his hips and singing "Hound Dog" to a basset hound on national television, to the Beatles telling us that "Nothing is real" over sitars and modulated loops of Paul McCartney's laughter made to sound like seagulls.
"That's my favorite era," Colton Turner tells me backstage before the show. "I like playing a lot of like teen dream stuff ... early Sixties, Del Shannon – that's my favorite stuff to play."
This is masterfully captured on their full-length releases, The Mellows (2019) and Need You (2020), but especially on this year's single release, "I'm Coming Home." The B-side, "Don't Throw Our Love Away," could've easily set the tone for a love affair in any Russ Meyer movie.
The bass player, Yari Bolanos, has a posture as steady as his groove, focused on the no-nonsense, rolling hooks which provide the solid pavement necessary for a smooth ride. This voyage is also navigated energetically by drummer Jack Christy, who wears the widest grin onstage.
The secret weapon in capturing the pre-flower-power Sixties affectation is the keyboard player, Michael Johnson. His steady hand on the vintage Vox Jaguar has the perfect tone, volume, and timing, waiting patiently to fill in gaps that don't really exist, but without his presence, you wonder if they might. His presence fulfills the music's identity, helping it from becoming just a little too cliche, much like how Billy Preston saved Let It Be without doing anything except for being himself.
With talk of hitting the road this year, both in the states and Europe, the Mellows feel blessed for this foundation in their personal journey as musicians. While the road does bring hopes of reaching a wider audience, as well as the possibilities of greater success, it'll never fully replace the warmth of a unified smile from a loving couple that simply seems to say, without words, "Thanks, we really needed this."