“Grew up on the south side / Made friends with the east side / Made love on the north side,” Dustin Smith coos as Love Lines, the debut album from his band the Maytags, gathers force like a summer thunderstorm.
These phrases are specific to the cultural geography of the singer, guitarist, and songwriter’s Des Moines, Iowa hometown, a music and arts community with a rising national profile highlighted by praise from the Talking Heads’ David Byrne and glowing explorations from Politico and The Atlantic. But Smith’s words also help evoke the Maytags’ journey to this sultry nine-song set, one that also runs through Smith’s time in New York — where studied jazz as a drummer — and the band’s recording sessions in Tennessee. Other band members have roots in St. Louis; all studied jazz, mainly in central and northern Iowa. If there can be a New South, then there can be a sound that’s Midwest Nouveau.
Love Lines smolders with the intensity of a relationship that just ended — “both the good and the bad,” Smith says. Recorded at Nashville’s the Bomb Shelter with Andrija Tokic, who has also recorded Benjamin Booker and Alabama Shakes, the album sees Smith achieving a bit of the latter band’s gut-busting, almost-preternatural howling on cathartic opener “Pushing Up Rivers.” A three-part “Suite for Green Eyes,” written as a whole by Smith and Tim Sanders (sax), inhabits the aftermath of a breakup: bittersweet acceptance, tempestuous reflection, and the lustful confusion of running into an ex once it’s all over: “Fourth of July we’ll be holding hands,” Smith belts out on “Street Clothes,” knowing full well he’ll likely be watching the fireworks with somebody else.
As much as Love Lines is born out of a breakup, it’s also an artifact of a seven-piece band that has been honing its chops on the road. “Musically we worked our asses off on this,” Smith says. “Me and Tim got together for the initial writing sessions and really tried to draw a lot of inspiration from the Daptone crew, Stax, Al Green. Just to name a few.” The songs were then taken to the band and arranged as a unit, with each member having creative input on each song. The Maytags then tracked the whole album to 2 inch tape in less than 30 hours.” That follows December 2014’s Nova EP, recorded at the same studio and tracked to 2 inch tape in 19 hours.
As Love Lines ends, with the rhythmically and emotionally tricky “Problems,” Smith’s weary purr fades away: “Someone call the doctor, the doctor, the doc-doc-doc...” The cure is already there, in a balmy sound that must’ve blown in from some fantastical Iowa coast: a flyover that flew away and returned wiser for the voyage.
The Maytags are: Sam Mogerman, Nick Leo, Tim Sanders, Dustin Smith, Daniel Kreipke, Ben Chappel, Andy Poppen