Byrdsy Midwest power-pop bands are a dime a dozen, but when the occasional one with that special something (could it be…talent?) comes along, it makes up for all the uninspired strivers. The Dangtrippers, an unassuming rock-pop quartet from Iowa City, Iowa doesn’t do anything out of the ordinary on Days Between Stations, but the consistently fine songs and the able-bodied performances make it an eminent delight. Tunes? Strong and memorable. Harmonies? Alluring and modestly employed. Lyrics? Simple but not simpleminded. Playing? Guitars weave in and around each other over a sturdy rhythm section. (Kenn Goodman of the Service provides guest keyboards.) Just wonderful.
Devin Hill was the Dangtrippers’ linchpin; five years after Days Between Stations, he resurfaced in Minneapolis, offering up an even more appealing solo debut. With the help of five musicians (including the Dangtrippers’ other singer/guitarist, Doug Roberson), Hill adds Byrdsy country flavoring to the purified essence of melodic rock in a sterling set of songs, some of which stash lyrical razors in the candy apples. Stars‘ title song offers chin-up romantic encouragement in a classic Big Star frame, but its next-track neighbor, “Pretty Baby,” is a murderous stalker’s threat, misleadingly sung with relaxed affection and no shortage of charm: “Your heart beats now, but it won’t beat for long.” That’s followed by “Run Like Hell” (not the Pink Floyd song), which employs sweet Everly Brothers harmonies and mandolin to announce Hill’s revulsion for the song’s subject. The R.E.M.-ish “Lovers Again” can’t escape its unhappy context; the Shoes-y “19th” evinces ambiguous motives for revisiting old memories. With pristine musicianship and an unsettling vibe, the too-brief Stars brings troubled emotions to pop’s amusement park.
In synch with indie-pop’s mid-’90s rural current, the high-lonesome singer turns countryward on Wayout Lane, letting acoustic guitars, twangy leads and dusty/pretty harmony blends (plus organ) shape such songs as “Old Armed Robbery” and “Meet Me at Home.” “Wish You Luck” upholds Anglo-pop purity (check the recent Colin Blunstone compilation for reference points), but Hill consistently infuses the album with American elements that grant it adequate stylistic unity. Except for “Popping My Balloon,” Hill works with a different set of musicians here, and consigns them to a smaller role, doing more himself. “Last to Learn,” “It’s Coming ‘Round” and “To Get to You” are fine, mostly because the vocal arrangements are so good; other songs float by without leaving much of a trace.