Menagerie releases debut EP drenched in southern blues

Bowling Green alternative country upstart Menagerie released a self-titled debut EP March 4. The five-song release draws from influences ranging from moody delta blues to tinges of Southern rock and folk, recalling acts like the Alabama Shakes and The Civil Wars.

The band’s current single, standout EP opener “Empty Houses” recalls the southern blues you’d hear in a ramshackle juke joint somewhere in Nowhere, Mississippi. It conjures an era that brought about icons like Robert Johnson, the elusive Depression-era blues musician that, as legend has it, sold his soul to the devil at a Mississippi crossroads in exchange for an unmatched guitar-playing prowess.

“Go ahead and tear me on down, a menagerie of broken glass / Holds the reflection of this empty house,” Collin Hancock and Christina Talley sing in harmony on the single.

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Check out an interview with Hancock below.

When did you start Menagerie? What experiences/themes were you mining on the debut EP?

Menagerie started two years ago, with Alex Helson and Christina Talley. It was very much a side project for all of us. We got together maybe once or twice a month to work on cover songs, while piecing together some original material. The most noteworthy accomplishment during that time was opening up for Diamond Rio, which Christina totally nailed despite the pouring rain and my guitar being horrendously out of tune.

We were having trouble finding a steady bass player during that time, so we were essentially stuck. But, we were busy with other things and we had fun together, so we weren’t in too much of a hurry. Once Patrick Duncan joined, we were able to move forward and record. That’s what really helped this project get off the ground. The first original song we wrote was, “Running in Place.” Which, as the title suggests, is a reflection of how I felt about the project and my life at the time. I was a jobless post-grad living with my parents, which summed up about 70% of the people I knew.

How would you describe Menagerie’s sound? It definitely seems to be tinged with alternative country influences. Were you influenced by any particular artists/records/time periods/etc. when you were making the debut EP?

I was listening to Alabama Shakes’ album Sound and Color, so I like to think some of their roots-rock influence made its way into the music. Christina comes from a country music background, so the combination seems to land us square in the Americana tradition: broken hearts, open roads etc. We both have a love for The Civil Wars, so that has been a huge influence. The album has the frustration of going nowhere, the desire to travel, the feeling of falling in and out of love, the desire for the familiar and a desire for change. It’s all opposites. It’s like being pulled apart. “Empty House” is about learning to accept love, when you’re not in love with yourself. “Fast as Time Goes” is about the desire to hold on to a perfect moment, but realizing that part of joy is its impermanence.

How would you contrast Menagerie with the music you’ve penned as Heron & Crane? Is that band still active?

Heron and Crane and Menagerie share a lot of thematic content, and I think the difference comes down to genre. Heron and Crane is floor-stomping high-intensity rock ‘n’ roll and Menagerie is more focused on taking its time, letting the songs breath to support the vocal harmony. Also, Heron and Crane is still going strong, and we hope to be recording soon.

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