Brian Revels is probably most recognized as the brazen voice behind Atlanta, Georgia’s City Mouse, a bourbon-barreled version of a folk band with an ear for clever turns of phrase. If you’re a City Mouse fan, you would be forgiven for calling him a banjo player. But, long before the birth of this rowdy roots trio, he has been scribbling lyrics on scrap paper – restaurant order pads, receipts, check stubs – and picking a well-loved 6-string confidante.
At 16, Revels dusted off a neglected Silvertone Stratocaster that was begged off of his single mother and chopped his way through Johnny Cash’s rendition of the Nine Inch Nails song, “Hurt”. The effect was immediate and it anchored deep. A summer’s worth of work later earned him the Takamine that now has a hole in the front that would make Willie Nelson do a double-take.
As a budding musician, Revels gravitated to the agsty art of the era – Brand New, Taking Back Sunday, and, most influentially, Bright Eyes but soon after found his way to more timeless heroes in The Band, Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt and Woody Guthrie coaxed by his friends’ southern-born fathers. Growing up a few minutes away from the intimate music mecca that is Athens, Ga, live music became an increasingly prevalent part of life. He was soon immersed in the music local legends like Drive-By Truckers or Ponderosa. His music now boasts a compelling mix of such influences, taking mournful but witty stabs at reality in a tone reminiscent of Conor Oberst’s work or journeying through an outlaw’s murder ballad in a way the Patterson Hood might appreciate.
As a performer, he tends to reimagine his songs constantly. Not like the Dead, completely reforming or endlessly improvising, but delivering the words with an earnestness that is completely true in the moment and therefore never a re-enactment of something tirelessly rehearsed – whether or not it is.
“I swear it comes from somewhere else. I definitely catch myself forcing parts of it, but some of the inspiration I just can’t claim. As far as the show goes, it’s like trying to keep a bird in a cage that won’t latch. I try to stick to melodies, try to be still but it never seems come out as tame as I’d like. I guess that became part of the charm to some folks. I’ve learned to appreciate it.” Says Brian.