So there's finally a contender to succeed Whiskeytown in the Next Big North Carolina Band sweepstakes -- Chapel Hill's Roman Candle. Comparisons to Ryan Adams' old outfit are superficially valid, since Wee Hours' songs are often gussied up country weepers about characters who smoke a lot and seek release in drink -- not to mention singer-guitarist Skip Matheny's twangy delivery, reminiscent of a wordier Adams.
Yet the truth is that there's a lot more going on here, sonically. Roman Candle blends its country with ample Memphis soul, British Invasion rock, and McCartney pop. The disc gets off to a strong start with "Something Left to Say" and "You Don't Belong to This World," which are all chiming guitars, galloping drum beats, plush organs, and sing-along choruses.
As the album moves along, it gets moodier, from "I Can't Even Recall," a late-summer country-blues number built on rich Rhodes fills and subtle horns, to "I've Got a Reason," half garage rock and half majestic Queen anthem, and "Help Me if You Can," a wistful Stones-like ballad in the manner of "Memory Hotel " and a good barometer for the more subdued -- and intriguing -- second half.
Chris Stamey's production highlights the accents without sacrificing the simple heart of these songs, resulting in a well-polished and promising debut.