One of the most fascinating songs chosen for the Columbus bicentennial tribute album Celebrate Columbus In Song was Miller-Kelton’s “Parsons Ave.,” a funky pop-rock stomper that described scenes from crime-ridden East Side streets.
“For all practical matters, it’s a song about drug dealers,” guitarist and lyricist Ed Forman said.
The Columbus quintet strikes the same balance on its new self-titled EP, which completes a transition from humble folk-rock to upbeat guitar pop.
The current lineup is adept at pumping Forman’s songs with vitality. Atop bassist Brian Ludwig and drummer Chase Hurlow’s foundation, the group’s two-pronged arsenal is deployed, singer Julia O’Keefe’s matching melodies with guitarist Neil Unterbrink’s sly lead lines. Imagine if The New Pornographers performed juiced-up versions of Neko Case’s folk songs rather than Carl Newman’s power-pop, but dressed up in Sixpence None the Richer’s radio-friendly sheen.
Miller-Kelton never touches the romance-novel theatrics of “Kiss Me,” though. The EP is jammed with imagery that belies its peppy, user-friendly aesthetic. The bright music/dark lyrics trick is timeless, and it keeps Miller-Kelton interesting — not to mention interested.
“If the lyrics weren’t dark, half of us wouldn’t be in the band,” Hurlow said.
Forman is simply writing what he knows. Some of it is direct exposure to poorer neighborhoods; he formed the band with O’Keefe five years ago when he was living on Bedford Avenue near the Miller-Kelton freeway exit that gave the band its name; “Nothing But Sirens Here” references a New Year’s Eve filled with gunshots.
He finds inspiration at work, too: “I’m a lawyer, so I see a lot of ugly stuff. Everybody I see is either angry or scared.” Then there’s the horror of Christina Aguilera’s botched “Star Spangled Banner” at the Super Bowl: “It was so weird to see a robot screw that up.”
The release show was originally scheduled for Woodlands Tavern but is moving down the street to launch Woodlands Backyard, the bar formerly known as Loose Goose Tavern. (It’s behind the Sunoco station on Grandview Avenue just off I-670.) Also performing: John Turck Trio, The Boondogglers and Matt Sullivan and the Black River Gypsies.