The Missouri by-way-of New York White Rabbits hit the ground running in their debut record, Fort Nightly, with a driving beat, but catchy stylings, that give them room to roam. The six-man ensemble, fronted by guitarist/singer Greg Roberts and pianist/singer Steve Patterson, give a fun edge to sounds ranging from alt-road to marching anthem to nineteenth century dance hall. While the Rabbits sometimes slip a bit when they range too far a field, Fort Nightly is a winning album in any state.
“Kid On My Shoulders” opens up Fort Nightly with poppy-but-driving rhythm for its guitar and piano. Somewhat dark, “Kid” displays more of a ‘dark road’ fun, almost sing-a-long at points. That catchy sound and beat carries over into the following “The Plot”, which still stands out from “Kid” by delivering a more wistful – but still poppy – fun. In general, White Rabbits are at their best when they stick to that sunnier side. The informal, barroom-sexy “Navy Wives” has a fun ‘been around the world’ element to it, grooving really well with its particularly great bass line. The single-worthy “I Used To Complain Now I Don’t” is a bopping tune, thanks to its superb ‘jungle drums’ and slow-fast rhythm (with Beirut’s ubiquitous Jon Natchez guest-spotting on horns). The grand, almost vaudevillian piano of record-ender “Tourist Trap” is an upbeat, but wry, number that almost has the feel of ‘Old Mexico’ in the Old West.
When White Rabbits veer further away from their more poppy style, the results are good, but not as good. The ‘dance hall’ nature of “Tourist” is rolled out on two other tracks also near the end, “March Of the Camels” and “Fort Nightly”, but there’s almost a paranoia in “March” that can be a little wearing, and the record’s eponymous song has a melancholy about it that drags a little. Early on in the record, “Dinner Party” and “While We Go Dancing” keep the up-tempo, forceful beat of starters “Kid” and “The Plot”, but go even darker, and a bit all over the place with their tempo changes. And that beat is unfortunately kind of abandoned for something akin to a marching band in “Take a Walk Around the Table”.
On Fort Nightly, White Rabbits do a great job of marrying a driving rhythm to a catchy flavor, and with that as their jumping off point, leap into some very sweet waters. They may swim a little too far and a little too deep for their own good at times, but they’re never lost. The Rabbit six-piece gives Middle American hooks and a New York spine to a journey across the Old West, from gin joints full of sailor’s spouses and smart Spanish dancers to dusty forts and camel trains.