Hotel Lights CD Review: Former Ben Folds Five Member Releases Own Band’s Debut

“…when you see hotel lights in the distance you feel like ‘yeah, I’m almost there,’ but when you stand in the bathroom and turn on the hotel lights, they are fluorescent and you see every scar.” These words were spoken by Darren Jessee, former drummer for Ben Folds Five and now frontman for his own, North Carolina-based band Hotel Lights. The description above is perfect for the music that Jessee and company create, as the lyrics are quick to point out those scars in case the light from the music keeps you from seeing them clearly enough.

Songs of love and loss pervade the lyrics of this more than impressive debut, while the music is a perfect canvas upon which to paint the honest, thought-provoking words. “Miles Behind Me” features some of the best lyrics as Jessee sings, “Nobody saw you fall and I don’t care/ It’s all miles behind me.” Other similar sentiments are found on “I Am A Train” and “The Mumbling Years,” the latter upon which he sings, “One more goodbye song, cause it’s not ours to keep.”

Musically, the band is a fantastically laid-back mix of Nick Drake, Tom Petty and the aforementioned Ben Folds. Think of it as Americana-lite. There’s also some Ryan Adams to be found in the midst of it all as some tunes can even be classified as alt-country. Ultimately, however, the mix of piano and acoustic-driven tracks are the perfect accompaniment for a heart so scorned.

Hotel Lights is yet another impressive debut from independent haven Bar None Records, which has featured Juliana Hatfield, Mason Jennings, 10,000 Maniacs, Evan Dando and many, many more. If Hotel Lights show us anything, it’s that honesty is indeed the best policy, as you will be hard-pressed to find a better debut.

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