Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
The Mustard Beards are not the first band that Samantha Crain has told me I'd like, that I've actually liked, but they are the best band that she's ever told me I'd like. She sent a random note about the Perryville, Missouri, group one day and I was immediately taken by it. Mackey Smith, the lead singer of the group, is enthralling as a writer and as a singer, penning songs that seem set in the un-remodeled kitchens of yore, at the backs of houses, opened to the outside by a screen door, with thick windowsills that were actually used for hot pies and flowerpots. They are songs set in old living rooms - rooms that have been lived in again and again, over and over, through countless decades. Families have passed in and out of the rooms many times over. They are rooms filled with the indentations in the carpet and the hardwood of shoes worm by many people who are no longer living, but they were once alive in these rooms. You can sense a sort of past tense in the songs of the Mustard Beards, as if they were the direct product of generations of people, not feeling as if they were part of some congruous collection of people, but sensing it all the same. The fingerprints of grandfathers, grandmothers, great-grandfathers and great-grandmothers, along with those of all of those relatives, neighbors and friends in between are smudged everywhere on these songs. They come to us as they were returning from those days that we used to remember, when the days held such promise, but we didn't know how good we had it until the days got away from us and suddenly we were old men. We aren't the oldest men yet, and some would ding us for considering ourselves anything but pups with a lot to learn, but there's no mistaking that we're old men. We feel like old men, at the least. We're left to think about how differently so many things turned out. Smith sings on "Blankets of Sin," about the bright and invasive light of the outside pouring in through the windows and seeing too much, knowing too much. The blinds are closed shut and there's a need to suffer through certain things without anyone knowing. He sings about how those days remembered featured us in our better skin and he sings, "Oh, we were younger then," and recognizing that it was such a different feeling and he misses it. It was a time when "your hair hung low," and such a minor thing spelled out those salad days. There was something better in the air, as Smith gives us these stories in a way that reminds us of the Lemonheads spinning songs from "At Dawn"-era My Morning Jacket. He sings of rusty skies with the undertone that they didn't always used to be like this. They used to be less rusty, even blue, at times. The Mustard Beards are the wooing of remembered beauties and those undeniably nimble and fresh feelings that were coming to us without hitches, without asking anything in return. They were just ours for the taking back then. We still remember those times back then, as faded as they've become. You get the sense that we're hearing about folks who feel they've had something go missing in the elapsed years and it's hard to just move on. They'll just look in a few more places.