Like the sonically similar Wilco, Durham's Bull City melds the pop cognizance of Alex Chilton, the face-peeling passion of Neil Young and the empirical studio slight-handedness of Jim O'Rourke. And while Ex-Ashley Stove and Bull City guitarist/vocalist Jim Brantley certainly wanders the same hook-laden turf as Jeff Tweedy, he isn't emulating. Instead, Bull City's first EP (barring an early CD-R), Guns & Butter, is a stunning execution of how rewarding Southern music can be when next-generation indie rockers gaze at the Archers and Allmans with equal admiration.
Over seven tracks, Guns & Butter tastefully twists styles through Brantley's cultured songwriting and penchant for harmonies and licks. The band ebbs between swaggering hard rock, country-fried pop and delicately orchestrated arrangements, only falling short for five of the EP's 30 minutes. Goofy saloon stomp ballad "Sally" breaks its forming momentum, but upbeat tracks like "Game," "Everything Falls Apart" and "Knock It Down" soar with fine hooks and standout instrumentation. Bandmates Lance Westerlund, John Kurtz and Scott Carle prove essential. Slower tracks "Easy" and "Runnin'" are both lyrically and musically mature, offering some of the EP's strongest and most dynamic moments. Ass-kicking opener "Ford Ranger All American" includes the line "I've got a double-barrel in my doublewide/ It ain't about livin' on cinderblocks, it's 'bout American pride." Is there a Grammy for kicking ass?
Guns & Butter is too good not to transform Bull City from another local ex-member band into a crucial part of the Triangle's music scene. It's not a stellar local debut. It's a stellar release.
Bull City plays 305 South with Django Haskins and The Sammies Friday, May 18, at 9 p.m.