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June 19, 2007

Two for the road: The Wreckers walk a tightrope between pop stardom and country traditions

The WreckersThe WreckersWednesday, June 27Coyote’s133 W. Liberty St.589-FUNN$23-$25; 6 p.m.Popular music is full of them: duos with one member more popular than the other. Any music snob worth his mettle can tell at least one Art Garfunkel joke, or allude to Daryl Hall’s boyish good looks and soulful voice, all the while sneering about John Oates’ mustachioed lack of charm. In the world of duos, there is a caste system: the star of the group and the other one, something that Jessica Harp, singer, guitarist and member of The Wreckers, was all too ready for.“In the beginning, I think there was a fair amount of that The Wreckers, but I was ready for it,” Harp says. “But now, people know us as The Wreckers, and not just ‘Michelle and that other girl.’”But instead of thinking of those artists when thinking of The Wreckers, the country duo consisting of pop princess Michelle Branch and country chanteuse Harp, the most adequate description that comes to mind is Donny and Marie Osmond.The Osmonds’ mantra — “a little bit country, a little bit rock ’n’ roll” — sums up The Wreckers’ sensibility without even trying. Somewhere between the Wal-Mart country of Faith Hill and the slick Target pop of Norah Jones lies the casual, front-porch melodies that are as sweet as iced tea, the mellow-gold guitar hooks straight out of ’70s AM radio, and the glossy young Hollywood-esque look of a musical union between two friends who want to create on their own terms — terms that don’t include trying to court country and rock audiences.“We don’t worry about a balance The Wreckers. Michelle and I went into the studio and made our dream record that, to this day, we love and we’re proud of,” Harp says.It seems like not worrying has done wonders for the band. Their debut album, Stand Still, Look Pretty (Maverick), was released in 2006 to positive reviews, and the song “Leave the Pieces” was nominated for a Grammy. So what do they have planned for a follow-up?“I think, if anything, we’ll have a more ‘traditional county’ record,” Harp says. “We were kind of held back because we were on a label that never had a country group on it before.”With a new album in the planning stages, and a few hits under their belt, one begins to wonder about the possibility of The Wreckers exploring the wonderful world of solo projects, a place that Branch, Harp’s partner in the band, knows well: Branch has sold more than 2 million copies of her two solo albums, The Spirit Room and Hotel Paper. “We both went into the band with open minds, and we felt like it was the right thing to do; but we both are keeping open minds, and when it feels like we shouldn’t do it anymore, then we’ll do something else,” Harp says.While the duo may have a non-committal attitude about their long-term future, The Wreckers have committed to setting out on the road to play shows, grow as a duo and win over fans across the country. While their sound may have a bit more twang than most pop listeners are used to, Harp is confident that The Wreckers have something for everyone, while remaining true to their roots.“We’re still being loyal to country music, but Michelle and I both believe that good music is good music, no matter what you call it, and if we can open people’s ears to country music who wouldn’t normally listen to it, then we feel like we are doing something good.” Contact the writer at leo@leoweekly.com