Unwed Mothers are a true genre-bending band. While listening to their debut, self-titled album, I tried to think of a sound to compare them to. My list includes Rilo Kiley, Bikini Kill, Carrie Underwood, Amy Winehouse, the Black Keys, Alanis Morrissette, Janis Joplin, Tom Waits, and the Eagles – bands and artists that sound absolutely nothing like each other.
Unwed Mothers are a little bit blues, a little bit country, a little bit indie, a little bit folk, and a little bit arena rock. They would sound at home on your mom’s favorite adult contemporary station – all the hits of the ‘80s, ‘90s and today – or on your local college radio. They’re deceptively polished, so that you don’t quite notice what they’re doing until you really stop and listen.
It’s all about singer Julie Adams’ voice: it’s captivating, a powerhouse. She’s an expert at conveying different emotions and genres: her voice can be raw and husky, sweet and crooning, innocent and whispery.
Adams is truly the backbone to the band, formed in Edmonton, Canada less than a year ago, in summer 2012. The Unwed Mothers Bandcamp page informs us that Unwed Mothers – Adams on vocals/guitars/keyboards, Michael James on lead guitar, Kurtis Schultz on drums, and Josh Eygenraam on bass – informs us that the band “met in a series of university halls, jam spaces, and dimly lit bars,” but other than that, their origin is mostly a mystery.
The album opens with “Skeletons,” which is also the band’s first single. “I never lose, I never lose control,” Adams sings, her “Woahs” and “Ohs” getting increasingly raw to close with a guitar-heavy wail.
One standout is “White Knight,” a high-energy, bluesy song that showcases James’ lead guitar skills as well as Adams’ vocals.
“Boy, you left me in a daze,” Adams sings, to an answering guitar lick. “Had love in your pocket but you threw it away.” It’s part country, part ‘50s rock’n’roll, part childhood repeat-after-me song. Adams even incorporates part of a nursery rhyme and a handclapping game, infusing the line “Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, jump clean on over that candlestick” with a fervor only rivaled by the next line, from “Miss Mary Mack” – “He jumped so high he reached the sky / Came calling back on the fourth of July.”
There’s been little press on Unwed Mothers so far – they’ve been featured on a handful of indie music blogs but have had little mainstream coverage and lack even an iTunes bio. The lack of press is the only sign that this is a debut album and that the band formed less than a year ago – from the sound of it, most people might guess that this is a fifth, or eighth, or tenth album from fan favorites who started playing together a decade together. They’re polished and practiced, yes, but more than that, Unwed Mothers know exactly what they want to sound like and exactly where they want to go – and their debut album is the roadmap.