At Cups in Fondren, strings of draped Christmas lights glow in front of a whimsical backdrop in shades of blue. Underneath hanging props of clouds and stars, Geoff Smith, Joshua Cosby and Nick Redmond of Memphis' Ardent Records act Star & Micey begin to perform.
These three troubadours have crisscrossed the Southeast this fall on their first tour in support of "Star & Micey," their self-titled debut album released in October.
Star & Micey are multi-instrumentalists whose intricate harmonies and dynamic melodies are electrifying. Lead singer and primary songwriter Josh Cosby plays acoustic guitar and sings with a lilting Conor Oberst-esque vibrato. He sometimes gets on the floor to pound out a beat on the bass drum.
Geoff Smith can groove out a bass line while singing harmony vocals; or he can play the organ, plink out notes on a glockenspiel and simultaneously keep time with an orange shaker֖the equivalent to patting your head and rubbing your stomach. Nick Redmond churns out guitar licks and sings harmony while playing the harmonica strapped around his neck. And he can play the keys, too.
Friends since middle school, Memphis natives Cosby and Smith have an easy chemistry. They bonded back in the day, as misfits often do.
"He was the cool, poor kid and I was the weird kid no one liked," Smith says. They began to write songs and play music together in high school. Redmond came on the scene in 2008 when he met Cosby at a singer-songwriter night at Neil's Bar & Grill in midtown Memphis.
"It was one of the last places I thought I'd meet someone who would play such a pivotal role in my life," Cosby says. Cosby gave Redmond his self-made CD, but they lost track of each other. Redmond listened to the CD "for the next seven days straight," he says.
Redmond, whose day job is as a recording engineer at Ardent Records, had ears keen enough to know he was on to something and wanted to bring Cosby and Smith into the studio to record. But there was a snag. Cosby wasn't sure he was interested in pursuing music as a career.
"He's the kind of guy who would be happy just playing for himself," Redmond says. Cosby says he was writing songs in the first place to make himself "feel better." Luckily for the music world, the desire to share and inspire people outweighed any initial drawbacks he may have had.
The guys went into the studio and came out with what they thought was a great product. Redmond presented the end result to the "studio brass," as he calls the studio bosses. Redmond said because of the band's adaptability to different genres, the studio bosses weren't sure what to make of it. So, Star & Micey decided to re-record, this time pulling out the big guns. Redmond asked friend, co-worker and Grammy-nominated producer Curry Weber (John Hiatt, North Mississippi Allstars, Beau Soleil) to assist the fledgling band in refining their musical focus. The elements of this collaboration produced a gem of a pop-rock album, and an Ardent Records recording contract.
Redmond also recruited studio manager and Big Star alum Jody Stephens to play drums on the '70s-rock inspired "Nelson," named for the street in Memphis. It's a slow burn of an unrequited love song, with strong, syncopated rhythmic bursts. A delicate blend of harmonies chime in, emphasizing the conflict of emotions: "if it hurts somebody else/even if it hurts myself." Rick Steff (Cat Power, Lucero) played organ on "She's On Fire," a finely crafted balancing act of lyrical pop-rock angst. Cosby's strong falsetto soars over the lulls and the powerful horns-infused crescendos.
Weber's friend, Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars, Black Crowes), laid down the lead guitar track on "So Much Pain," infusing the feel-good song with Hill Country twang. Despite the underlying sadness fueled by lyrics such as: "I lost all my friendships/they all sailed away/from that deadly storm that/was named after me/so much pain/I caused so much pain." Buoyed by the lively, lighthearted music, the song ends with a sunny pop breakdown, complete with handclaps and a head-bopping refrain of "I just feel so grateful"celebrating the freedom of forgiveness. Each poignant track on the album has a similar story of searching the depths of human connection and love in a musically candid and expressive way.
In the afterglow of its fall tour, Star & Micey recorded a holiday track entitled "Memphis Christmas," and headed on the road again. As their fan base grows, Cosby says the band's aspiration to "meet more people and play for more people" is a genuine thrill.
Star & Micey's third visit to Jackson is Friday, Dec. 18, at the Ole Tavern on George Street at 10 p.m. The band will also play Monday, Dec. 28, at Cups in Fondren. Listen to the band's music at http://www.starandmicey.com.
Is 8pm right? The Old Tavern website says 10pm
Ole Tavern confirmed that the show starts at 10 p.m.