The Itchy Hearts are a down home, garage rock band from Brooklyn with heavy country and folk overtones that has yet to outgrow its Virginian roots. Led by Andy Cobb, the band has released three albums, changing line-ups completely (minus Cobb) for the newest, Tried to be Punk. They remind you of your friend’s high school band, except they actually have talent and they make good use of it. They’re somewhere between other genre-blending acts Ryan Adams and the Replacements, except they’ve yet to become the thing of lore. They are a unique opportunity to take part of something tangible, concrete, and full of the glorious chaos of a drunken, laughing, crying, beautiful experience.
The music is both melodic and messy. Relying on the classic guitar-bass-drums line up with the occasional banjo or string arrangement, the songs seem both familiar and remarkable. The two older albums–Do Ya Best and Goodbye Goodnight–lean closer to the country side, more acoustic than Tried to be Punk. But all of the albums contain the sort of up-tempo, slightly depressing songs that need to be sung along to, danced awkwardly to. Subject matter includes blind aunt Mary’s and their husbands named Buddy, dogs, heartbreak, and drunken revelry. These are albums about the core of life and written by someone unmistakeably human, who copes by music and in doing so connects. The lack of over-production is all the better: they sound like conversations with a friend or a brother.
“Jenny & Them” is one of Tried to be Punk‘s best songs. A simple but infectious rhythm underlies Cobb’s voice on the verses, his simple singing resounding in emotional pleading and earnest longing.
Don’t hold the door, tonight I’m going out with someone else
She’s strong and she’s sure
I’mma show her a good time all by myself
Jenny don’t let me down, you know I got others out there too
The drums kick on the chorus, a crescendo of guitar picking and a swelling voice: “You better kiss me while you can.” Cobb’s song writing melds with his voice perfectly, creating songs that seem almost human themselves. In a digital world of disconnected music, the Itchy Hearts sound refreshingly analog, hitting close to the heart as a result.
“I Been Walkin” is another great example. A live version closes Do Ya Best, the talk back leading into banjo picking. Cobb sings of homesickness plagued by the recognition that he has “no home to go home to.” His voice is meek at times, exploding at others. As always, passion edges through any pretensions of virtuosity, the songs standing not on mere appearance, but on something deeper. Reworking classic emotions and song structures is Cobb’s strong suit, adding a personal touch that infuses them with life. For anyone who’s felt lost and restless, “I Been Walkin” is immediately understood. It’s an inspired song and a song that seems both timeless and pertinent. The song ends with an extended jam session, raucous and unfettered, refusing too take itself too seriously but simply expressing, as any good song should.
The Itchy Hearts’ tours complement their songs perfectly. Shows take place at small venues–mostly around the south–with house shows in larger cities. Cobb acts as contact, emailing fans with directions and times for shows. He’ll even occasionally put out a communal bottle of whiskey for the crowd. Live versions of album favorites keep the touching melodies but stretch them, pushing away from the country and towards the rock. This is a band doing things the right way. Still in the workman phase of their career, they are earning every accolade they receive and many they haven’t yet.
It’s impossible to listen to the Itchy Hearts and not wish them success–they are too honest, too kind, too much like you. But for now, they feel like a secret you’ve been let it on, like the local band only you know about, a band that’s become a part of your daily life.
All my songs startin’ to sound the same
all my love startin’ to turn into pain
I don’t know if I can do this again
I don’t know if I can be the friend you always wanted me to be
Cobb sings on Tried to be Punk opener “Paolo & Stinky”. He may not deserve heartbreak, but he’s certainly making use of it. And his music is there for you just like a friend might be.
Check out the band’s bandcamp page to listen to or buy any of the albums.