When Destry's Michelle DaRosa tells me she grew up watching musicals excessively, I find myself listening to her singing voice just to see what type of musical heroine she'd be. And after a mental scan of the golden-age favorites, I come up with some kind of cowgirl/pin-up girl — with the city sophistication of Stormy Weather's Selina Rogers and the unguarded doe-eyed flair of Li'l Abner's Daisy Mae. It would make for some interesting costuming, anyway.
These are the sounds of Destry's second full-length, Waiting on an Island, which will be released this Wednesday at Great Scott. A little bit of retro-reverb, some warm tremolo twilight, and just enough sweetly tailored melodies to get you singing back home. A duo of songwriters DaRosa and Tyler Odom, Destry are like our own local version of She & Him — if you substitute for She & Him's watery latte pop a grounds-filled campfire cup of joe.
"I feel much more comfortable doing the music I'm doing now," says DaRosa from a sunny Cambridge coffee shop. It was just a short four years ago that she was still doing the alternative radio-rock thing with her Long Island outfit, Straylight Run — the band she formed with brother John Nolan when he defected from emo darlings Taking Back Sunday in the mid '00s. When DaRosa finally decided to form her own project, around 2008, she made a hard play for Odom (an Alabama native who now resides in Texas) based on her love for his former band, Cassino. Despite the pair's alt-roots, DaRosa credits Odom for crafting Destry's distinctly worn vintage sound.
"The guy that recorded our first record was frustrated with Tyler," she recounts with a smile. "He said, 'You just like the old things. You can use this new amp and get the same sounds. You're being ridiculous.' And so this time around, we just used authentic instruments instead of having someone finagle it digitally."
With a convincing gleam of rootsy authenticity shining from its 10 tracks, Waiting on an Island has many of the touchstones of a late-night pop classic. On "This Island" and "Smile," baritone-guitar riffs warble and wayward tambourines echo over Shirelles-style backbeats. "Don't Break My Heart" jumps and skips with summery wildflower-filled guitars and glockenspiels as DaRosa swoops into the vocal hook with her buttery, confident voice. Whereas she brings out the twang in Destry's personality, Odom's vocals offer more of a calming, indie-pop presence. Despite its respect for more-traditional musical times and virtues, Waiting on an Island is a pleasant surprise of songcraft in any time period or geography.
But what's most remarkable for an album this cohesive is that the two songwriters live almost 2000 miles apart. Although not having Odom around for most of the local Boston gigs isn't ideal (he will be there at Great Scott), DaRosa handily fills out the local version of Destry with members of Spirit Kid and Girlfriends. Passing MP3s back and forth with Odom isn't ideal either, but DaRosa says she wouldn't choose a different musical "mail-order bride" even if she could. "I never wanted to make music on my own."