The Tisburys – Exile on Main Street [REVIEW]

Philadelphia rockers and Left o’ favorites The Tisburys are back with their third album, and it’s a gorgeous reflection both on what it means to feel at home, and what it means to leave home behind.

The group formed back in 2015 with singer-songwriter Tyler Asay and lead guitarist John Domenico. Since then, bassist Doug Keller, guitarist and keyboardist Jason McGovern, and drummer Dan Nazario have been added to the crew. The chemistry with this lineup is palpable, and it’s been a treat to hear their sound grow from the lo-fi of Wax Nostalgia to the rich, full tracks featured here on Exile on Main Street.

…hey wait, isn’t there another album called that?

That’s a pretty bold choice right off the bat – to immediately invite comparisons to the classic Rolling Stones album. But this isn’t a cover album, or a Matchbox Twenty album, or whatever else you’re thinking of – this is a power pop powerhouse filled with warm, sweeping harmonies and sing-a-long worthy tracks.

In reality, this record has more in common with The Replacements than with Mick Jagger and co. The title is actually more of a nod to their album Let It Be (1984) and how that name was, you know, already taken. You can certainly hear the influence of The Replacements on the album, as well as the sounds of other local rock n’ roll heavy hitters, like Philly’s Dr. Dog and Hop Along, and of course the New Jersey titan Bruce Springsteen (“We don’t have much but we’re having fun/cause tramps like us are born to run!”).

Between those clear musical influences, lyrical shout outs to the Schuylkill River and New Jersey towns, and the title’s nod to Main Street Music in Manayunk, it’s obvious that The Tisburys love where they’re from and want you to feel that love in their songs. For a Jersey girl like myself, Exile on Main Street feels like home.

“When your dreams are shattered in the moonlight/and you hear the hum of old guitars/are your memories exiled on Main Street?/Are you fighting the sleep off in your car?”

Don’t get it twisted, though – you don’t have to be a local to enjoy this album. For starters, there’s enough nostalgic Americana sound here to make anyone feel at home in these soaring choruses. The mixture of shimmery jangle pop guitar, twangy acoustics, and heartfelt harmonies envelopes the listener with a tender, vaguely nostalgic feeling.

But it’s not all happy reminiscing here. There’s a dash of country influence on a few of these tracks, with solemn meditations on loss and regret. One notable example is the melancholic, “Ten Years On.” Asay’s voice is clearly well suited to the heartland rock sound showcased on the majority of the tracks, but this song highlights his vocal versatility and his ability to tug on the listener’s heart strings. “Second Sign” has some country flair to it, too (and also happens to feature another Left O’ favorite, Katie Hackett of The Lunar Year, on backing vocals).

It helps, too, that the album is stacked with guest saxophone, lap steel guitar, flute, and trumpet sections. Everything here feels so big and full – it’s hard not to find yourself wrapped up in it. And with songwriting this catchy and infectious, it’s easy to start humming and singing along on the first dang listen. Take the Spanish-tinged jaunt “La Mancha,” for example – this right here is an instant singalong classic.

The lyrics throughout the album are stunning, with some really fantastic storytelling moments on tracks like “On The Run In Harmony, NJ” and “Language of Luxury.” Lead single “Garden” has a smile-inducing message, with the chorus crooning, “If the rain falls too hard, then you will know your plants are growing/And if the day turns into night, then you will know my light is burning.” It’s so sweet, and the earnestness with which these lines are delivered fills you with a sense of comfort.

Asay wrote the majority of the tracks here, but one of the best lines actually appears on “Paulette,” an Eels-esque track penned by Domenico: “I’ll call your bingo numbers into the night.” That’s such a charming line; infused with loss yet still warm and vaguely hopeful.

The album is bookended by the tracks “The Tisburys (On Main Street)” and “Exile (On Main Street).” They’re mirror images of one another, with the first being more upbeat and the last being a bit more solemn. These two songs encapsulate the heart of Exile On Main Street: the idea that looking back is important, but you still have to keep pressing on and carve out new homes for yourself out on that wide open road. No one likes to leave what they love behind, but at some point, we all have to do it.

But with The Tisburys, it feels like all is possible. Like you can climb all the mountains you need to climb…and have a really great soundtrack playing while you do it.

Exile On Main Street is out now. Support it on bandcamp, or stream it on your preferred platform. You can follow The Tisburys over on Twitter and Instagram.

Header and album cover 📷: @bedfordtowers

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