25 Songs | MR075 | Release Date 2011 & 2012
Here's a partial list of proven, effective band-killers: geographical distance, the death of a group member, non-music careers, fam-ily responsibilities, long hiatuses and involve-ment in other, more commercially successful bands. For the Big Cats, however, these are all idle threats to the band's existence. Formed in 1993 by teenage friends in a bustling Little Rock, Ark., punk scene, the Big Cats thrive un-der adversity and separation, evidenced by the recent arrival of The Ancient Art Of Leaving: Two Parts, a double album whose first installment (The Ancient Art Of Leaving: High And Low) was issued last year. The twin releases provide a no-filler treasury of Middle American power pop and rock healthily influenced by the Replacements and Guided By Voices.
Led by singer/guitarist Burt Taggart, the Big Cats are an unlikely supergroup of side players. Jason White is the longtime touring guitarist for Green Day; drummer Colin Brooks is part of kids' music juggernaut Dan Zanes &. Friends; bassist Josh Bentley spent some time playing with the like-minded rockers in Superdrag. Missing from the current lineup is Shannon Yarbrough, who died at age 24 in a late-night automobile accident. In May 20DO, his car struck a bulldozer parked in the middle of the road; police believe the bulldozer was moved from a nearby construction site to the road as a prank. Yarbrough's passing galva-nized his friends and bandmates.
"Shannon's death absolutely brought us all closer together," says Taggart. "It came at a time when Colin was living in New York and Ja-son was in Berkeley and the band was in limbo. Everyone was feeling their way out, trying to figure where to live, what to do with jobs. When Shannon died, I think it crystallized the fact that we were all in this together and that no matter where any of us lived, it was important to stay in better touch as friends and try to make new music whenever we possibly could."
After Yarbrough's death, the Big Cats mus-tered their first full-length, Worrisome Blues, in 2002, and followed up with On Tomorrow in 2007. Life as the Big Cats approach their 40s, however, doesn't always make rehearsals and recordings convenient. Aside from his roles as a father and the proprietor of Max 8ecord-ings-home to the Big Cats, early American Princes releases and a variety of Little Rock bands-Taggart runs an architectural firm with his father.
In early 2011, the stars aligned for the quar-tet, which once again gathered in Little Rock to work on 25 songs Taggart had sketched out. All 25 were recorded during the Ancient Art sessions, many of the tracks ringing with nervy melody and youthful, big-chorused abandon. Even the forces that drive Taggart-friendship, artistry, the DIY ethic-come from that pure place of teenage idealism.
"I just fell in love with the freedom and fulfillment of being able to write, collaborate and record songs with my friends," he says. "And then from the label side of it, to continue that on and come up with art and packaging, distribute it, etc. To see it through the whole process. And to look back and realize you're making progress or getting better at it along the way. I may not always be thrilled that the Big Cats aren't known to more people, but I always feel good about how we choose to run our ship."
- Matthew Fritch via Magnet Magazine