Wide Right
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Wide Right

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The best kept secret in music


"Brooklyn's Loretta Lynn"

by Robert Christgau

Leah Archibald's favorite music quote comes from Andy Shernoff. "People like bands for the music," the Dictators' master theorist supposedly said. "But they love bands for the words." You can see the attraction of this idea for the leader of the Brooklyn-based, Buffalo-rooted Wide Right. "We are not players," she says of a band boasting Archibald's muscular, gung ho vocals and willing rhythm guitar, Brendan O'Malley's solid drums, Dave Rick's solider lead guitar, and whoever tags along to approximate the bass parts Rick devises on record. "You can't plug us into another situation and expect us to execute."
Not that Wide Right's "straight-up rock" is generic. For one thing, it doesn't aspire to the barroom boogie in which most straight-ups subsume their generic songwriting—it's sparer, the better to set off the words. But if songwriting means catchy tunes supporting well-observed lyrics with a p.o.v., as opposed to whatever formal tweaks indie aesthetes are into, then Wide Right are a band after Andy Shernoff's heart. No wonder he bought their eponymous 2003 debut on Poptop, where Archibald serves as president, production supervisor, and mail clerk.

Of the many lines I wish I could quote, let me isolate two that stick out, one from Wide Right and one from Sleeping on the Couch, available now at widerightmusic.com or June 22 at their Southpaw release party. From "400 Miles," about driving to Buffalo to "grownup music" with the kids finally asleep: "A Diet Coke and one more salty snack." From "Flicker Film," about a Fluxus freeloader Archibald kicks off her couch: "Let the narrative decay." To me, these sharp details imply a redolent contradiction. Archibald presents herself as a working-class broad from the provinces, a Bills fan given to vulgar pleasures she knows too well: fish fries, firemen's fairs, lots of beer, and "a Midwestern guy/Who plays guitar and wears his hair in his eyes." But she's no folk artist; she has an arty side. So occasionally there'll be one about Vincent Gallo's pores or a pretentious has-been "on tenured life support" who'll steal your cough medicine while you're at work. Need I add that in none does the narrative decay?

On the F train to dinner at Archibald's house, I remembered the three shows I'd caught and pictured something like this: tastes run classic rock, met a few avant-gardists at SUNY Buffalo, moved here for the music's sake around 2000, mid-level computer professional, two kids, husband . . . the real breadwinner? an average joe? what did "Why can't a Ph.D. find his own shoes" mean? As I mounted the stoop of a Park Slope attached beyond the brownstone zone, the vinyl siding struck me as a homey touch.

I was right about the kids—though I obviously didn't know that eight-year-old Kira spent a year in a cancer ward, which means among other things that Archibald will always need good medical—and wrong about everything else except the straight-up half of this Drive-By Truckers fan's tastes. Archibald, who will turn 40 five days after her release party, studied sound recording at Michigan State and after graduation returned home to become a secretary, just as her Irish cop dad if not her Jewish school secretary mom had figured—only soon she was making better money selling fragrances on commission at a now defunct department store. Cosmetics would be a career path for Archibald, who left her dying rust belt hometown way back in 1988 and has been describing it from memory ever since, migrating first to D.C. and then L.A. as her spouse, SUNY Buffalo alumnus Dave McBride, earned his doctorate in American history. But increasingly her income came from jobs in politics, including an excellent one as de facto chief of staff for a councilman in West Hollywood. The family settled in Brooklyn in 1998. McBride is an editor at Routledge, and Archibald, who now has a New School M.A. in public policy, is marketing manager of the Industrial & Technology Assistance Corporation, which generates industry in New York City. That comes before music. "My self-image is tied to what I do professionally. I'm working for the cause. I'm a very competent voice for working-class jobs in the city."

In most indie bands, young bohemians spend months on the road regaling the bohemian fringe. Not Wide Right. "I have a $2700-a-month mortgage," says Archibald. "How many CDs does an indie-rock band have to sell to pay that? I feel bad that I didn't get to do this 20 years ago." But of course, "this" wouldn't have been Wide Right; if "not so many 19-year-olds want to hear about an argument you had with a guidance counselor," fewer still want to write about one (unless maybe the guidance counselor is their own). And though lots of indie bizzers like her new album, no one can see making it pay without major touring the band can't commit to. So call Wide Right, which began with Archibald playing rhythm for friends and discovering she could do it all, an art project—solid as - Village Voice

"Village Voice 2/9/05"

" Brooklyn foursome Wide Right, fronted by a wailing thirtysomething mother of two, specialize in meat-and-potatoes, rust-belt pop-rock about hockey, Pete Best, and (mostly) being a mom in Buffalo. Highlights on their very good forthcoming sophomore album include a Loretta Lynn cover about birth control, a sad ballad where one spouse sleeps on the couch, a Tattoo You-ripping remembrance of junior-high crushes, and a glam shout about how Buffalo isn't always snowbound."

(Chuck Eddy, February 9, 2005)

- Village Voice

"Chicago Tribune"

"Irrefutably charming, Wide Right's unfussy "rock 'n' roll fueled by cheap beer and Gibson guitars" motto fails to disclose that the Brooklyn-via-Buffalo trio is fronted by a sports-loving, working mother, Leah Archibald, who, on the band's self-titled debut (Pop Top) and forthcoming "Sleeping on the Couch," spits out Rust Belt tales about things such as industrial decline, with a weary intelligence and vodka-smeared vigor that can only be gleaned from a life spent east of the Mississippi. Consider yourself warned."

(Bob Gendron, November 12, 2004)

- Chicago Tribune

"Blender 9/05"

Friendly, leftist rock band, perfect for drinking in the kitchen while the kids pillow-fight

On the Wide Right website, Leah Archibald offers to cook dinner for every rock critic in the country. It’s the kind of just-folks gesture, both warm and sarcastic, this Brooklyn singer usually turns into a song. Wide Right’s homey, five-chord rock gets the big picture of working-for-a-living bohemian life. With a deadpan alto made to deliver witty comebacks, Archibald, 40, is a sharp-tongued spokesmodel for the growing demographic of rock moms. Like her spiritual mama Loretta Lynn, Archibald makes breakout music about daily life’s little confinements—fighting with the hubby, getting the kids to school, shlepping to a day job—and her power trio drive home the sharp lyrics with a jovial kick. It’s a simple pleasure, but satisfying. Not unlike a perfectly seasoned chop.

(Ann Powers)

- Blender Magazine


"Wide Right's lead singer Leah Archibald could be the daughter of Heart's Ann Wilson. She has a similar timbre to Wilson during her "Barracuda" period, and a similar penchant for hard-bitten hard rock, lady-style. But Wide Right's second album, Sleeping on the Couch, is dominated by lyrical motifs foreign to most indie rock: While most of Archibald's contemporaries are singing about broken hearts and mushroom trips, Archibald sings about the working class life in her hometown of Buffalo, NY, as well as being a single mother, struggling to pay bills, and flattened peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches.

The sometimes-downtrodden lyrics could come off as attempting to elicit pity, but Archibald's style is so matter-of-fact and often funny that the listener wouldn't dare feel sorry for her. It makes sense that Archibald would cover songs by another no-nonsense woman: The coal miner's daughter herself, Loretta Lynn. Wide Right covers Lynn's 1975 classic ode to contraception, "The Pill." "Mini skirts and hot pants / And a few little fancy frills, " Archibald sings with AC-DC-worthy verve, "I'm making up for all those years 'cause now I got the pill."

Though Archibald, along with Dave Rick on guitar and Brendan O'Malley on drums, has relocated from the rust belt of Buffalo to Brooklyn, the city is still close to her heart. A high point of Sleeping on the Couch is "Junior High School Dream," where Archibald describes her type as a "Midwestern guy who plays guitar and wears his hair in his eyes," and says, "I'm thirty-seven going on thirteen / He's my junior high school dream." Sleeping on the Couch comes out on Brooklyn's Pop Top records on June 14th.."

(June 2, 2005)

- Spin Magazine

"Chicago Reader"

"Chrissie Hynde fairly glowered at the strip malls and interstates of Akron in "My City Was Gone," but Leah Archibald looks back on her own dying rust-belt burg, Buffalo, with far more conflicted feelings. On Wide Right (Poptop), the debut full-length from her band of the same name, Archibald cruises one more time past the lawn ornaments in "Mary on the Half Shell" and downs a can of Genesee in "Firemen's Fair," seeing all the details she'd have overlooked or at the very least cared less about had she stuck around. If the typical week of snow shovels, quarter drafts, hockey, and bowling she outlines on "Rust Belt Girl" ("Used to try to fight it / Now I assume my rightful place in the world") sounds like an all right life, "Pete Best," which compares the fate of the booted Beatle to a town where "crumbling buildings dirty waterways defeated people wither and decay," makes it clear why Archibald now lives in Brooklyn. She's got a full-throated classic-rock voice, with a hint of sly menace that makes her "Kryptonite" more potent than 3 Doors Down's and "Vincent Gallo," which slams the Buffalo '66 auteur as a camera hog, sound like just deserts rather than sour grapes. Her bandmates, too, play at being more generic than they are, but they can't fool me--the meat-and-potatoes bar band they'd like to pass themselves off as wouldn't have a drummer as scary as Brendan O'Malley or a guitarist like Dave Rick, whose opening solo on "Pete Best" takes off like a wicked mix of "Freebird" and "Search and Destroy."" (Keith Harris, October 2, 2003)
- Chicago Reader


from Blender:

On January 27, 1991, with eight seconds remaining in the game, Scott Norwood’s 47-yard field goal drifted wide right, and the Buffalo Bills lost the Super Bowl by one point, crushing the hopes of their downtrodden hometown. Wide Right, a lively rock quartet named for Norwood’s gaffe, identify unromantically with losers: They also name a song after Pete Best, the Beatles’ original, discarded drummer, rock’s consummate also-ran. In her riled, burlap voice, Buffalo-born songwriter Leah Archibald, a mother of two, describes the confines of artsy, marginal adult life in a blue-collar city: Booze appears often as a diversion, so do bowling teams and hockey (twice). She’s a true original, equally resentful of slumming yuppies, a complaining downstairs neighbor and hometown actor Vincent Gallo, whom she accuses of heresy: making a key factual error about the Bills in his film Buffalo 66. (Rob Tannenbaum, September 2003)
- Blender

"CMJ New Music Monthly"

from CMJ New Music Monthly

A self-proclaimed rust belt girl, Leah Archibald never really left Buffalo, even if her home address now reads Brooklyn. It’s a fact that she accepts with equal parts anger on songs like “Pete Best” (about the friends trapped in her hometown) and resignation, as found in the determination to find a good time and barbequed chicken at the “Firemen’s Fair”. But if you think that makes her music resigned (angry’s another story), think again. While Archibald ultimately farts artiness in a lawn-kitsch town, her guitar-bass-drums lineup smells like beer and pretzels at 1 am rather than meat and potatoes at 6 pm. Songs like the self explanatory “Go To Hell” and the you-can-go-home-again monument “400 Miles” rock right past indie’s attitude comas and never once look back to the salad days of alt-rock. And if you think that means her Buffalo stance offers up no smarts, well, how many songwriters could give Vincent Gallo his due for his mugging vanity project Buffalo 66 and prove themselves one helluva film critic in the process? And on “Another Way” Archibald has more to say about sexuality than is dreamt of in the teaches of Peaches. She’s more than friends, less than lovers with her gay buddy. But what will ultimately force a definition of their relationship is that at 4:30 am., she’s up with her son and he’s still at the bar. (Kevin John, August 2003)
- CMJ New Music Monthly

"Rolling Stone--50 Best Records of 2005"

#47 Wide Right's Sleeping on the Couch - Rolling Stone

"Village Voice"

from the Village Voice:

"Wide Right's Buffalo-gal (now Brooklynite) mommy-rocker Leah Archibald cranks out big-guitar screamers about active-verb identity: shoveling your car out of the snow ("Rust Belt Girl"), checking out religious statuary ("Mary on the Half Shell"), and confronting hipsters who want your cool little hangout for their Ketel One cocktail spot ("Expensive"). With a voice that swings from Astbury to Jett, the adorable Archibald summons a storm on the stop chorus of the I'm-outta-here rager "Pete Best," and still essays nuanced topics like friendship-without-label ("If I weren't married and you weren't gay/ We'll just have to find another way") and a rock-n-roll road trip complete with parenting ("The kids will sleep for the whole time/ grownup music for the enti-yer ride!"). Evoking nostalgia for that "Fireman's Fair," where we'd "hang out in the beer tent" and win some goldfish, she leaves no doubt that we really can't go back" (Laura Sinagra, (Ma) Trix of the Trade-Quirking Girls, July 2, 2003)
- Village Voice


"Sleeping on the Couch" Wide Right's second album was listed as one of Rolling Stone Magazine's top 50 CD's of 2005. Wide Right, self-titled debut album. Recieves airplay on WFMU, KEXP and other college radio stations.


Feeling a bit camera shy


On Wide Right’s second album, (listed as one of 2005's top 50 records in Rolling Stone Magazine) songwriter Leah Archibald continues to turn traditional rock songwriting on its head by offering an unusual perspective as a Buffalo-born mother of two who works, tends to her children, rocks and then wakes up the next day and repeats the cycle all over again. None of life’s details are too small to escape her sharp assessment; arguments with smug elementary school guidance counselors, telephone conversations overheard from the needlessly optimistic actor next door, internal dialogues concerning foxy front men of tedious bands and interminable visits from abominable houseguests are all grist for her sharp songs about people who get drunk, get even and get by.

Garage-impresario Jim Diamond (The Sights, White Stripes, Dirtbombs) recorded “Sleeping on the Couch” at his legendary (and humid) Detroit studio, Ghetto Recorders. Diamond’s production provides a gritty setting for Archibald’s cast of rust belt characters: the schoolteacher who ill-advisedly bought beer for his female students (“Picture in the Paper”), an oblivious husband longing for a little female company out in his homemade garage clubhouse (“Dishrag”), the regrets of a woman who swapped a crappy service job in her hometown for a crappy service job in another city (“Laws of Gravity”) and the poignant reflection of a bewildered partner in the aftermath of a marital argument (“Sleeping on the Couch”). Songs range from infectious power pop (“Royanne”) to full-bodied rock (“I Don’t Care”) to a Glitteresque shout-along (“Buffalo Fight Song”), all woven together by Archibald’s strong, warm voice and smartass delivery and attitude. Supported by band mates Dave Rick on guitar (King Missile, Bongwater) and Brendan O’Malley on drums (Lovechild) Wide Right delivers Archibald’s songs with a propulsive beat and a searing Gibson/Marshall crunch. Wide Right is not afraid to be smart, and not afraid to rock out.

“Sleeping on the Couch” features guest appearances by Diamond as well as members of the Sights, Sirens, Come-ons and Dirtbombs. Wide Right’s self -titled full -length record received a truckload of praise, including an “A minus” in Robert Christgau’s Consumer Guide.