Before Durham's Luego could record and release its full-length debut, Taped-together Stories, frontman Patrick Phelan endured a VH1-worthy scenario: The rest of the band bailed following a 2008 EP, I Know I Know, and a subsequent tour. Phelan almost quit, too, but soon enough, an influx of new (and better) players transformed the band. That roster includes the ubiquitous duo of Nick Jaeger and Jeff Crawford (Max Indian, The Tomahawks, ex-Roman Candle) and N.C. rock-vet Peter Holsapple (The dB's, R.E.M., Hootie & The Blowfish).
But that woebegone tale wouldn't matter unless it reflected Phelan's resolve to turn a probable dead end into a bright new beginning. The music that this story spawned is, without question, the high water-mark for the still-developing but attention-worthy Luego.
Opener "Held Up" is a fitting gambit for the LP—it's the band's best synthesis of roots rock and pure pop yet. A deft string arrangement and steady bass-and-drum backbeat brush against Phelan's voice, which sits somewhere between Geddy Lee and Neil Young in the subset of male rock vocalists with a divisive high range. Its disco pulse—like Jamiroquai reimagined as an alt-country act, but better than that sounds—doesn't overwhelm Luego's rootsy aesthetic but instead showcases the band's willingness to stretch its sound.
It's actually when Luego reverts to pronounced, fundamental classic rock influences—songs like "You Better Run, Boy"—that they stumble. Though the players handle their duties admirably, "You Better Run, Boy" suffers for Phelan's tendency to over-drawl and lean on colloquial diminutives. It's more than a little affected.
But the fact that the band's most predictable songs are its worst is probably a good sign. When things drip into a dance beat on "Held Up" or Luego rips a Sabbath-worthy guitar riff on "Migraine," the quintet successfully interprets a wider spectrum of pop music than its past might have suggested. But with Holsapple, Jaeger and Crawford guiding the arrangements toward the same intersection of pop and Americana they've found in other projects, these songs are tempered with a mix of variation and consistency. This version of Luego is more of a band than a singer-songwriter backed by disposable parts. Given that favorable transition, Taped-together Stories is a fine debut, marked noticeably by the sound of potential.
Luego releases Taped-together Stories at Local 506 Saturday, Oct. 17, at 9 p.m. Tickets are $5, and The Tomahawks and The Huguenots open.