Duck Kee Sessions EP

There was a time not too long ago when it looked as if Schooner was certain to be scuttled. Guitarist and co-founding member Tripp Cox had left the band. The female vocal and instrumental section, an essential part of the band’s cotton-candy-sweet harmonies and keyboard hooks, was in disarray. And the continued promise of new music to follow 2007’s full-length Hold on Too Tight seemed vague at best. From an outsider’s perspective, things looked profoundly uncertain. But bassist Maria Albani (formerly of Pleasant, also now of Ôrganos) signed on and restored some cohesion; keyboardist Kathryn Johnson, sister of frontman Reid, appeared to have rekindled her faith in the project; and new material indeed began to see the light of day.

The first recorded evidence of Schooner’s return to more stable footing is the Duck Kee Sessions EP, a six-song offering recorded by Jerry Kee at his semi-eponymous studio and now available from, a charity set up first to benefit and later to honor Cy Rawls, a North Carolina community and music mainstay who passed away from brain cancer in October 2008. All proceeds from the sale of the EP — not to mention all the other songs on offer at — are channeled toward that worthwhile cause.

With one exception, the Duck Kee Sessions EP is a continuation of the enchanting, “disheveled” (their word, not mine) indie pop Schooner had already mastered by the time of its debut, You Forget About Your Heart, back in 2003, as well as the somewhat mellower, more deliberate sound the band would release four years later.

Buoyed by bubbly ’60s-style keys and an abundance of light backing vocals, “Feel Better” is the uplifting sigh of relief that follows resignation. “Fortuition” is brief and reflective, a counterweight to the shimmying imploration to “Lose Yourself” on the following track. A countrified companion track to “Leaving Your Room” from Hold On, “Maybe We Lose” waltzes between the resignation of the opener and the weary pensiveness of the earlier “Fortuition.”

And then, after the far-too-cute instrumental “Duck Kee Nights,” comes one of the best tracks Schooner has ever laid down. If the EP consisted of nothing more than six tracks of “In All Probability,” the download would still be worth whatever price tag they decided to put on it. It’s a gloriously unholy mess, every instrument vying for the auditory fore: a delicious riff that sounds like a muffled vibraphone encircled by syrup-thick fuzz and feedback, Albani’s bass lurching and stomping ahead while Johnson broods (backed, as always, by airy oohs and aahs), “I tell you you can turn me down/ And I’ll be all right / Maybe you will pass me by / And stay on your side / … I’ll be all right” with as much chin-up resolution as he can muster, drummer Billy Alphin propelling things forward with just the right excess of thud and thwack. This song stands above all others here as a testament to the band’s impeccable pop sensibility and Jerry Kee’s recording prowess. If its fund-raising ability is anywhere near as great as its musical appeal, it will be a great tribute to the late Cy Rawls.

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