Album review – The Ballad of Doug by The Telephone Numbers (2021) (Meritorio Records / Paisley Shirt Records)
There is something so concisely ramshackle about this album. From the brilliance of the opening, You’re Nowhere, there is a mix of sounds that feels almost conflicted between tinges of 60s folk/jangly melodies and the modernity of a lo-fi introspection that perfectly disguises unwarranted extravagance.
Much of this is simply down to the natural mix of key personnel. Thomas Rubenstein, of The Lovebirds brilliance, uses tracks like Oh Pretender, Ballad of Doug and Kaleidoscope to drift out his left field mix of laconic, impassioned vocals, that are resplendent with the organic skew folk-pop inflections of Conor Oberst. A few albums down the line and his voice will be one of those ‘one note and instant recognition’ commodities.
With such typically San Francisco vocals darting through the glorious The Byrds like jangled riffs of Sunset Town, Pictures of Lee and the cover of The Keys track, I Don’t Wanna Cry, it would be easy to dismiss this as beautifully retro, west coast pop and simply celebrate it as such.
However, with Glenn Donaldson (The Skygreen Leopards, The Reds, Pinks and Purples and many more noteworthy etc’s) heavily involved in both a playing and production capacity, any hint of ‘too pretty’ is hidden away beneath his trademark use of under-production, that always manages to assign a feeling of introspection and isolation. In the context of this album such dissasociation adds a perfect, uneasy sense of inconstancy, to the Rubenstein exuberance. It is a conflict that works as an amazing whole.
The Ballad of Doug is one of those rare albums that will appeal to the increasing numbers who feel that any music after 1969 should be assigned to the nonsense pile and to a Spotify generation whose lust for an album, is persuaded primarly by the number of what the young call ‘bangers’ (for there are plenty here).
As is often the cases with Meritorio Records releases, all the vinyl has been snapped up at the pre-order stage. However, Paisley Shirt Records are busy cementing their burgeoning reputation as one of the finest cassette labels and this format is still available (for now!), Grab one here.