(Published in Jackson Hole Weekly, additional content added)
Mandatory Air has rocked some towering throw-downs in Jackson Hole over the last nine years. Supercharged by the costume-changing Miller Sisters, the octet has earned a reputation as a high-energy party band of polished musicianship and stage flare, drawing from a deep, motley well of classic material—psychedelic rockers, Motown soul, funk, and 80’s classics ranging from hair band to pop R&B.
While the band has drizzled setlists with original tunes over the years via sisters Candice Miller Kwiatkowski and Karee Miller Jaeger along with rhythm guitarist Justin Smith, the focus of building a more personal, authentic sound was on the back burner. Until roughly two years ago. Keyboardist Mark Longfield linked up with Jaeger to pen several tunes and bassist Marshall Davis added a co-write with Jaegar, fusing a batch of songs with Kwiatkowski. The newfound drive to write, arrange and record has been a lengthy undertaking that has come to fruition with Mandatory Air’s debut studio album Take Me Home.
“I think it keeps everybody excited. We got less motivated to play the same thing over and over and not [have it be] our own,” Jaeger said of the new direction. “We’ve all been playing music long enough that we could put together our own stuff. So we were inspired to do so on a different sound level. Candice has written music for us and we had been playing that, but Mark got the itch to start writing and started putting his ideas down, and we actually had time to create something other.”
“The band is just excited to have half of their show be original instead of all covers and that’s a new direction they want to take…being known as an original band and not just a party cover band,” Kwiatkowski added.
Having the chance to spin the Take Me Home masters several times over the last couple of weeks, there’s a soulful rhythm and blues vibe that juts to the surface. The Millers wail, alternating between lead and harmony vocals on tunes that tell personal experiences while exemplifying the reciprocal elements of sisterly singing that stamps the band’s signature sound. Instrumentally, the mix and arrangements showcase Longfield on a variety of ivory from electric piano to organ, spatially interspersed with classic, early ‘70s Stratocaster riffs courtesy of lead guitarist John Pansewicz.
The title track kicks off the set, a feel good tune that reflects edgy life on the road, looking for the next adventure. Kwiatkowski takes lead on one of her strongest, the floaty, introspective “The Truth,” while personal favorites include the memorable hooks in “Spinning Round” and “Believe”—the latter of which brings to mind Elton John and rolls from ballad to rock with a really cool vocal break. “Good as Gone” channels Pink Floyd’s “Breathe,” while one of the album-defining cuts, “Country Soul,” breathes from the heart of rural livin’ with Jaeger’s strong, steadfast vocals taking the lead, harvested by the band cutting loose to bring it Home.
“Pretty much all of the songs on the CD have something to do with the way we have lived, seeing out our experiences,” Jaeger said. “We can give this to our kids…and that’s how we’ll portray to them what we have done in our lives.”
The last two children of a tight-knit family of ten, and now mothers themselves, The Miller Sisters grew up singing gospel, folk and country music. Early influences from The Everly Brothers and The Judds made lasting impressions before the youthful travel bug drove the duo to Nashville, Reno and Alaska, eventually settling in Jackson Hole in 2004. In addition to the Mandatory Air album, the Sisters have already recorded a duo album due in early 2013.
“Doing this album with Mandatory Air took over a year with the number of the people involved, and has motivated us to get into the studio and record our own [Miller Sisters] stuff. That’s going to be a much more often occurrence now,” Jaegar said.
Take Me Home will be available for $15 at the show, with a portion of proceeds benefiting Search and Rescue.
Mandatory Air Album Release Show, 9:30 p.m., at the Pink Garter Theatre. A DJ will spin in the lobby 9 to 10 p.m. Tickets are $10 at Pinky G’s, The Rose or PinkGarterTheatre.com. 733-1500.