Juicy and complex
by Jenna Dixon
First of all, trousers really are involved, and they are orange. But whether their shade is particularly tangerine or more of a bright burnt sienna is a question that can be answered only while drinking in the juicy, complex songs of the Detroit band Tangerine Trousers.
I had no idea what to expect when I was yeah, I'll admit it talked into heading down to the Ark one day last spring for a CD release of a band I'd never heard of. My friend made me do it. She made me walk headlong into a room so thick with harmony that the hairs on my arms stood up in a good way. And apparently I was the last in town to hear about these Trousers a six-piece folk/whatever (they call it "folkrockcoustic") band. The place was packed with hollering fans, all clamoring for their favorite songs. And there were quite a few, all originals, to choose from.
This project is a meeting of six highly musical minds. Front and center are lead singers and band founders CJ Milroy and her husband, John Milroy. As the only woman, CJ is quite the focus, Renaissance beautiful and with one of the most versatile and wondrous folk/pop voices in the area. But to call these two "lead singers" would lessen the impact of everyone else. In truth, this is a group project. Pretty much everyone is a multi-instrumentalist, but in brief, guitarist Pat Shanley, drummer Michael Hacala, bassist Luke Sayers, and accordionist and pennywhistler (and gargantuan-trouser wearer) Mark Iannace are major presences throughout. You ever try to get six talented musicians to agree on a rehearsal schedule, a slew of arrangements and harmonies, a set list, and a gig date, not to mention travel arrangements? Have you? Well, I haven't either, but I've heard it's hard. Watching the Trousers in action is inspiring: six musical visions working as one. The result is pretty powerful.
CD being released that night was Dressed for Success, but the band pulled from what appeared to be a bottomless vat of luscious songs. I loved the klezmer-Celtic fusion of "The Bed That You Made," the sultry waltz "Boy Gone Blue" with its toes-over-the-precipice rests that fall into zillion-part harmonies and a song penned by Sayers, the gospel-tinged "Hannah." Just gorgeous.
The Trousers are a spirited lot, whose shows (I've since gone to another) are liberally dosed with patter, banter, hijinks, choreography, and shenanigans, some of which looked like a gas to perform in front of people. For what it's worth, I find this choice confusing, as if they somehow feel the music isn't enough. Trust me it's enough.
By the time you read this, the Trousers will have no doubt earned a few thousand more converts; they were featured at the Ann Arbor Folk Festival in January. They're back at the Ark on Saturday, April 24.
[Originally published in April, 2004.]