State Champion have been carving their initials in the bar wood for a few records now and this time around the gouge is getting hard to ignore. I’ll admit I’m guilty of not giving the Louisville band enough credit, credence, or most importantly enough time on the speakers. There are a lot of bands battling for the haggard and hangdog void left behind by The Mats, Uncle Tupelo and Camper Van Beethoven, but few are actually able to capture the effortless ease of any of those record shelf regulars. Ryan Davis belts like the best bar band basement chuggers inhabiting your average college town’s VFW circuit, but elevates himself out of the depression dens with his indefatigable wit and an ear for raw melancholy that’s enviable.
The magic of State Champion is they’re wading through an alt-country ramble that’s been picked clean before but making it work like few of their peers. Davis is without a doubt a big part of that. Much like fellow perennial underdogs James Jackson Toth, Ned Collette or Joseph Childress, he’s one of this generation’s great songwriters, sketching out a vision of the American Midwest that’s self-aware, unpretentious and biting. Full of crumpled last cigarette vignettes and bar rag blues, Send Flowers is without a doubt the best vision of their quarter-draft night aesthetic. While the band’s last couple of records wore down the threads on their flannel resolve, this one breaks through the disguise to reveal State Champion as more than just top-billed Louisville royalty.
Its not simply a vehicle for Davis though. While the touchstones of alt-country and bar rock aren’t revolutionary, the band backing him up are nailing the sound with a subtle grace. There are soft touch slide guitar runs that practically weep, fiddle that dances slowly in the corners, and an uncluttered strum that knows just when to step out of the way. There’s something beautiful in a record that lets the listener crumple in its wake. Send Flowers is that friend that will buy a few rounds when that relationship that stretched past the point of breaking finally does you in. It lifts you up with a few great stories and leaves you to think in the cold, numb embrace of the parking lot’s void staring up at the stars – afterward you’re better, even if you’re not better off.
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