Our Favorite Local Records Of 2011: #3 Zoe Muth and The Lost High Rollers – Starlight Hotel
We’re counting down our 10 favorite records released in the Pacific Northwest in 2011, follow along! –
#3 Zoe Muth & The Lost High Rollers – Starlight Hotel (Signature Sounds)
My review earlier this year of Zoe Muth’s stirring sophomore album of new classic country classics was about timelessness. About the things that last in this changing world, the immovable in spite of it all and the main metaphor was the titular hotel of Muth’s record: the Starlight Hotel.
The Starlight Hotel sits on the corner of old Ballard Avenue and NW Vernon Place, a stalwart of “old Ballard” before the condos and sushi joints moved in. It’s a roach motel that has kept its curtains tightly drawn for most of my 30 years, with a door I’ve never seen opened. The Starlight Hotel has stood unchanged by time, a seedy mystery on a familiar strip. It’s a building whose presence conjures vivid stories of its inhabitants just by existing — people down on their luck in life and in love, chasing dreams, but settling for well whiskey and one-night stands. That the Starlight Hotel has survived, decade after decade, as Ballard has changed seems to scream: “You might look different, but you’re still making the same old mistakes.”
And wouldn’t you know it, not long after the review was published and its namesake album was all I wanted to play, the Starlight Hotel succummed to the seasons of change and became “Hotel Ballard.” A boutique hotel with gaudy black chandeliers in the lobby and crystal clear windows to replace the grimy shutters of the long-standing roach motel. I may have never stepped foot in the Starlight Hotel, I may have never wanted to, but damn if I don’t miss it.
So while the album’s namesake may not have lasted forever, I think Muth’s tribute to it will. Because Starlight Hotel is made up of songs that sound just as at home today as they would have 30 years ago and just as at home as they will 30 years from now. Because there has always been and there will always be an appreciative audience for songs about good women who fall for bad men, anthems for good people with bad jobs and tales about just eking by in life with good songs, bad choices and the comfort we find in both. Zoe writes some of the finest of these songs being written not just today, but ever. Her lyricism evokes the greats: the Willie’s, the Waylon’s, the Tammy’s and Dolly’s. And her backing band is, for my money, the best in Seattle. Country Dave Harmonson’s pedal steel work is some of the most personality-filled playing you’ll ever hear–it sobs and sneers and winks–and Ethan Lawton’s mandolin picking is both the delicate flourish and unrelenting workhorse of the album.
Starlight Hotel is a country album and it is an exceptional one. Its a country album for folks who think country died in the ’70s, when country was still country and pop was still pop. But it’s just as much a country album for folks who think they hate country music. Yes, the instrumentation is as classic as it gets, but so are the songs. These are songs that sound better every listen, but feel like an old friend the first time you hit play.