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The Capitol Years

Not just the name of a couple dozen artists' box sets, but also the name of a band, one most decidedly not on Capitol, it should be noted. In the early days (2001) was just a one-man band, comprised of a Philadelphia mischief-maker who goes by the name Shai, Son of Eli (aka Shai Halperin) who after the breakup of his band Mastercaster began making four-track recordings in this Philadelphia bedroom under his pop-rock alter ego The Capitol Years. Now what does said pop-rock alter ego sound like exactly? A difficult question, indeed, as Shai/The Capitol Years is a self-confessed genre-hopper, but there's a little of the lo-fi jounce of Bob Pollard and Guided by Voices, a little bit of the droning, morose indie folk of early Elliott Smith, a little of the cracked, spacey rural weirdness of a Sparklehorse. There are hints of classic American rock here and there -- Tom Petty and even The Grateful Dead -- and a lot of just plain perfect pop. Shai sings in a pleasingly gravelly drawl that gets in your head. The Capitol Years' debut release, featuring the outstanding production work of Lilys bassist Thom Monahan, is called Meet Yr Acres, and features "Roller's Row," "Faces and Beer," and "Supper."

After the release of Acres, Shai recruited a pair of co-conspirators from the Mastercaster days, drummer Kyle Lloyd and bassist Dave Wayne Daniels, and later added guitarist Jeff Van Newkirk. The Years shook off the one-man band appellation like a stray cobweb and promptly began wowing Philly audiences hungry for rock that really rocked with an explosive vintage rock and roll sound. Late in 2002 the combo entered Philadelphia's Miner Street Studios with Monahan and co-producer Brian McTear and six days later emerged with six new songs, collected for your pleasure on the sensationally good Jewelry Store EP. Recorded mostly live, the EP captures the rampaging energy of the band's increasingly legendary performances. Here the American rock influences of Meet Yr Acres have been largely pushed to the periphery, with Halperin establishing himself as the 21st century heir apparent to Ray Davies; on some songs, like both the album's "Stores" (the title track and "Japanese Store"), The Years' combination of bluesy guitar licks, rollicking rhythms, brash vocals, and runaway woo-hoo harmonies evoke Face to Face era Kinks so much you'll get goosebumps. The Years will undoubtedly hit the sweet spot for anyone with a yen for big rangy, raw-boned melodic rock. Let's hope that with the renewed interest in true blue rock and roll, The Capitol Years go a long, long way, because they most certainly deserve to.

Following the sleeper success of Meet Yr Acres, the positive reception to the Jewelry Store EP and the band's growing reputation for a positively smokin' live show, Halperin dug Pussyfootin' out of the vaults, again demonstrating his versatility and sheer creative talent, as well as some seeds for his later work (particularly the Americana tinge of Meet Yr Acres, which featured another version of the Pussyfootin' tune "Faces and Beer"). This aptly titled lazy-day collection of songs recorded back in 2000 and 2001 is marked by Dylanesque vocal phrasing, feel-good fingerpicked guitar and woozy, subdued, countrified textures. The down-home mood isn't something Halperin is likely to return to much, but it is indicative of his remarkable ability to create intimacy through melody, something even his brashest rockers do. The Capitol Years have already created work that surpasses Pussyfootin' in ingenuity and emotional impact, and will likely only get better from here. But this is a record for a place, time and mood, and it stands nobly with group's excellent, quickly growing corpus.