So let’s say I’m a drop of water starting at the Granddaddy of Great Lakes: Lake Superior. I avoid evaporation, or extraction, and keep flowing; I peer over the sea of fellow droplets at the fading view of Duluth, Minnesota and flow into the super-lake of Huron and Michigan – maybe catch a glimpse of Milwaukee, Chicago, down into Erie: then Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, to Ontario up toward Niagara – Buffalo, up toward Toronto – where I’ll flow into the St. Lawrence, and finally out into the great, wide Atlantic Ocean.
Okay, so what’s with the hydrology lesson?
Honestly, it’s why any writer takes a science lesson: to corrupt the facts for a really poetic metaphor. See, from my perspective, there’s something musical about that slow, miraculous flow.
Maybe that drop of water near Duluth heard Bob Dylan sing in his childhood home; then, flowing down, heard the echoes of 15-year old Nat King Cole winning Chicago’s Battle of the Bands, or of his younger schoolfellow, the up-and-coming Sam Cooke. Add in a stirring of Detroit blues, and the Appalachian twang of its first Motor City Jamboree; then the sound of Cleveland, the “home” of rock ‘n roll, and well –
Well. That brings us to Buffalo.
The thing is, nothing comes to mind for me when I think “Buffalo” music. When I think Buffalo, I think Niagara Falls, US-Canada border, winter sports. Maybe wings?
But Buffalo is the pinch point of all these influences – that drop of water has its ears strained for the culmination of sound before making its freefall down the Niagara Falls. But trust a little research to ensure just about any city has a wealth of underground music.
And guess what? Buffalo’s got rock.
Timothy Alice and the Dead Star Band’s “Winning Number” is distinctly Buffalonian – it is “rock” with just about every flavor profile added in: a heavy dose of alt-country drawl, soul & blues depth, and bitter indie dregs of bored Americana youth. Singing about a wish for a better life with a winning lottery ticket, Timothy Alice and the Dead Star Band make mid-life crises and the fragility of young love feel cool.
“I’m terrified you’re tired of me,” lead singer, Timothy Alice, confesses, expressing insecurity throughout the song that the meager life he can give to his significant other is not enough. They’ll move somewhere where it isn’t so cold, he urges, even promising to “buy a working washing machine”.
But ultimately that winning ticket isn’t theirs. “Congratulations to the winner on the TV screen,” follows the chorus, emphasizing – rather than the win – the value of the hope that keeps them going. Rather than grow morose, the narrator “twirls (his partner) barefoot around the living room carpet like (they’re) seventeen.”
“I’ll win another, babe,” he insists. “You’ve gotta believe.”
Do we, the listener, believe this guy will win the lottery? Not really. And even if he does, there’s always the lottery curse to dampen spirits.
But this hopeful (yet futile) message is easiest to believe out of the voice of lead-singer Timothy Alice, whose vocals are wide and strong, with a quintessential country slur, and alluring rasp. The songwriter of the band, his lyrics evoke the narrative style of a few of his influences like the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Townes Van Zandt, seen in the vivid story of “Winning Number” as we explore the snapshot of a down-on-its-luck relationship.
Timothy Alice still has his “Dead Star Band” too. Joined by old friends Matt DiStasio on drums and Alexander “Bub” Crumlisch on bass, the song is elevated by the twirling bass and heavy drums. The song particularly lifts in the groove of the chorus that evokes the addicting dancefloor sway of a band like Midland.
In fact, the band seems like it can’t quite escape its love for the country sound, flourishing the chorus with a high, banjo tremolo that is lush and bright. Those warm sounds contrast to its colder edge; the heavy bass and drums jar just right against the twang, creating a fresh, but also familiar sound.
Created in wind-beaten home on a bitter winter night in Buffalo, the song combines this remarkable array of cold and warm, country and rock.
All that to say: I think that little drop of water, frigid at the Buffalo Waterfront, would be pleased to hear what became of all that mélange of sound. I think that little drop of water would tell me (if it could – metaphors get messy) how such a disparate range of influences makes the most sense; that to try and pick just one genre for Timothy Alice & the Dead Star Band would be like keeping that ever-moving, ever-evolving flow of water encased in ice forever.
While its protagonist may not have hit the lottery, Timothy Alice and the Dead Star Band have made a song worthy of its headwaters. So for now, as we wait for their upcoming album Used Cars to drop, let’s make the most of this “Winning Number”.