Posts Tagged ‘Cosmic Country’

Loose Koozies

I’ve said it many times, but its worth repeating, the past few years have been a golden age for alt-country. The strains are many — cosmic-tinged psych that dots a few pot leaves on the ol’ nudie suits, indie country that pulls from No Depression template, folk strummers with a touch of twang, wage-puncher rags that take the edge off. The latest LP from Detroit’s Loose Koozies employs most, if not all of these subsets at once, while making the transitions appear seamless. While the can scrape the infinite with the best of ‘em, mostly they’re splitting time between the Jayhawks/Tuepelo template and The Replacements shaggy dog day-job sufferers with a bit more barroom twang on board. The band’s E.M. Allen has got a damn fine Jay Farrar gristle in his windpipe and that might make the comparison lazy if it weren’t so spot-on. Aside from the aesthetic similarities, the band excels at making the ordinary trappings of work, vice, sorrow, and simple pleasures elevate from the benign to divine, like both of their influences before them.

While Detroit might not have the stamp of a country hotbed, it’s certainly got all the right pieces in place. Having grown up in Michigan myself, I know the hold the genre can have on the populace. Seems their prowess proved infections and the band caught the ear of local legend Warren Defever (His Name is Alive), who hopped on board to help guide the grooves that the Koozies lay down. He also found himself studio-side contributing a bit of keys to the record. It’s easy to see what enamored Defever with the band as they’ve captured one of the more raw-nerve version of the new country grit that I’ve heard elsewhere. Many have tried, but few have found the right balance of country-rock chops and sweat-stained honesty that made that ‘90s wave click. Each spin on this record locks it down further as a jukebox staple just waiting for a college town or night-shift bar to embrace it as their own. Don’t let this one slip away.



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Rose City Band

Its been no secret around here that the sophomore LP from Rose City Band has hit hard. Expanding on the debut’s humble roots in private press psych, country, and Americana, the second offering from Ripley Johnson’s solo outfit refines his vision and takes a light dusting to the dollar-bin veneer. The scrub up doesn’t degrade the charms though, and the more refined RCB doesn’t lose a single ounce of the endearing value of Rip’s sound. Largely, RCB leans further into the streaked skies of Cosmic Country this time around, with a good dose of twang and ramble seeping into the strings underneath a blanket of heat-wave warble that seals in the saunter. Johnson forgoes a long psychedelic excursion like the debut’s “Fear Song,” this time around, instead focussing on set of songs that build to a simmer with just enough time to froth without foaming over. I

ts a tighter record, but that doesn’t mean he’s not interested in letting those liquid silver guitar lines shine. The hallmark sound of lysergic licks still graces the record, leaving Johnson’s unique stamp on it. While still paying homage to his original crop of past masters — Relatively Clean Rivers, Jim Sullivan, KAK, and Curt Newbury, — the vibes on Summerlong seem to be swinging full well into Western nodes of The First National Band, Timbercreek, or Country Funk. The shift is subtle but fits Ripley well. His honey n’ dust croon lays low like a fog over the horizons of these songs, which amble slow and choogle slightly less than he has in the past, but what they give up in rollick they make up in melt. Though, as the album wafts into its second half, the temperature heats up just a bit and the breeze dies down.

“Morning Light” picks up the pace, but not the urgency, still laying back into sunshine ease, but “Reno Shuffle” lets the night in and a bit of heat lightning, hinting at a bit of danger in the distance. For the most part it lounges in languid moments and spot-on shimmer. The album is a perfect companion to hazy summer days as they turn into warm summer nights. There’s been a wealth of entries to the Cosmic Americana canon over the last few years and this one’s standing near the top. While it was on constant rotation here, its possible that the debut from Rose City Band got lost among the releases last year. Hoping that same fate doesn’t befall this, because its definitely edging its way towards the top of the list of albums for 2020. Don’t sleep on this one.



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Rose City Band – “Real Long Gone”

Another shaker from the upcoming sophomore LP by Rose City Band. While the band’s debut slipped out quietly under the shadow of anonymity, leaving a few aural clues as to who was behind it, now Ripley Johnson (Moon Duo, Wooden Shjips) has taken his rightful place in the sun for the follow-up. The band’s been blending down the private press folk loner linger with the faded country swagger of deep bench ‘70s presses and nowhere does it coalesce better than on “Real Long Gone.” The song’s got a sunburnt soul, beaten by road dust and winding down the same turns that Turnquist Remedy, Country Funk, and Mighty Baby tracked before them. In the past the heat-curl of psych has obscured the twang-tipped wrangle, but here the country careen is on full display and feeling like just the thing to ease into summer. Warmer days have a good companion in the grooves of Summerlong.


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Half Stack – “Wings of Love”

Adding to the Autumn shivers of the country-rock groundswell of late, Oakland’s Half Stack have been building steam for the past few years, with an EP release last year and their sorely underusing 2018 LP, Quitting Time in the rearview. They announce a proper follow-up this week and release the title track “Wings of Love” out onto the breeze — unfurling an easy sway, a tangle of guitar twang, and three-part harmonies that melt like butter in the pan. The song’s got a wandering heart and travel in its bones, but its also got a melancholy soul that’s not ready to leave easy. The band employs a looseness that never sounds over-fussed, letting a little rumple work its way into the sound despite an obvious aptitude for songcraft. The record’s on the way from Forged Artifacts, and as with many soon to be platters, the digital will land mid-summer with physical dates stretching into the fall. Get this one on your wishlist now, though. Its gonna be a good one.



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Sean Thompson’s Weird Ears – “Never Wrote A Love Song”

A nice little surprise this week knocks out of Nashville from Sean Thompson’s Weird Ears. The solo/collaborative project of Sean Thompson hasn’t released all that much, but like fellow country-rock killers Teddy and the Rough Riders, its worth keeping an ear to the rail for the bits that surface. This EP in question is a three-song recording of a house party, backed by longtime collaborators Ornament. The band and Thompson find an unshakeable groove on two new songs and give a bit of a live once over to an old fave from the Time Has Grown A Raspberry EP from last year. Thompson admits that while the instrumentals are live in the room he gave the vocals a “Europe ’72” studio treatment after not getting the results on the tape. The combo makes these click. The harmonies are crisp and melancholy and they pair well with the ripple rollicked run-through that the band lays down. There’s a dearth of live energy going ‘round these days so I’d recommend getting in on it when it hits. Let your ears get weird.




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Jess Williamson – “Wind On Tin”

Very glad to see that the country croons of Jess Williamson have returned this year. In her absence there’s been a wealth of great voices added to the sunset striains of alt-country, but her’s has always been a welcomed voice in the genre. With a subtle swish of the cosmic fabric, Williamson wields melancholy through the stardust whispers of the wind. “Wind On Tin” is a spiritual sojourn born out of grief in a dessert town. Williamson claims she’s heard god on the wind, “God” or something else — nature, the vibrational thrum of the earth, the strings of the cosmos. Whatever was on the wind is strung with the fiber of the universe and her song ruffles the same hairs on the neck that may have sprung to life in her hearing. The video, directed by friend and collaborator Eli Welbourne plays into the myth of the mournful cowboy, but its saturated with just the right amount of divine light. Williamson’s new album is out May 15th on Mexican Summer.

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Teddy and the Rough Riders

Missed out on this one, sadly due to the announcement running through Instagram and me looking the other way. I live for Bandcamp notifications, get it up there Rough Riders! Now, to the record. I’ve been keeping the band’s TRR EP in pretty heavy rotation on the RSTB radio show and it only grows better with age. The band, which shares members with Natural Child and The Paperhead and has backed up Sean Thompson’s Weird Ears, has been steadily carving out a mellow alt-country crevice from Nashville’s underbelly. The band captures a melancholy wind that tousles the hair of the standard country crowd – ably picking at traditional tropes and applying requisite studio shine, while fitting in with the sunburst strums and pedal-steel melters of Mapache, James Matthew VII, and Tobacco City. The record’s bootlegger stomp and backporch ramble let it sink in and simmer without falling fate to any stereotypes that might befall a band with less inclusive tastes.

While not as compact and consistent as their seamless EP, the room to experiment lets the band play with form. Songs like “Too Drunk” are build on the sing-song lilt of English folk, but dressed in Nudie Suits all the same. They make it work before tumbling back into river-ramble tales of mischief and summer sun fitted with psych’s rosey-hued spectacles. The record breezes by with a smile and a sigh, as if it already knows that the carefree days are bound to end. As I mentioned the real problem stems from an availability for those outside the streaming-system (guilty). I’d love a proper physical issue, so labels worth your weight, help ‘em get a run going. Sometimes you gotta dig the gold out, though, and The Congress of Teddy and The Rough Riders shines up real pretty. Find it where you can and enjoy!




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Mapache – “Life On Fire”

Shortly after bringing the country croons of their eponymous 2017 LP back into print, Yep Roc announces a new LP from Mapache, From Liberty Street, due out March 20th. The distinctly West Coast duo spent their last record distilling the country-folk foldings of Flying Burritos, Gene Clark, Beachwood Sparks, and The Byrds, and they’re continuing to find footing in the salt-scrubbed eddies of similar terrain on “Life On Fire.” With veteran collaborator Dan Horne (Cass McCombs, Allah-Lahs) in the mix, they settled down into a home-recorded setting that only gives the songs more intimacy. “Life On Fire” is practically reclining in its urge to strip the stress from your day. The song dips just below the horizon, squinting against the afternoon light and letting the bittersweet bliss sigh out in every direction. If you missed the last LP, catch up and get this on your calendar.



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Mixtape: Some Cowboy You Turned Out To Be

While this doesn’t really fall under the year-end banner, I’m going to place it in alongside the rest of this wrap up. It’s actually been a year since the site’s last mixtape and I think these have fallen by the wayside too long. For this one, I’m shifting focus on the mixtape series to contemporary over archival releases to wrap up some of the excellent strains of alt-country, country-folk, and dusted singer-songwriter tracks that have come out in the last few years. The creep of country into indie has had a nice push lately, bringing forth some of the most affecting and aching tracks of years past. While I’d wager to say that Cosmic Americana has had the strongest resurgence in years past, I’m making the case for alt-country as a close second. The lay lines on this sort of genre are shifty and mercurial, so feel free to disagree, but I’d wager this mix has some strong contenders in its ranks.

These songs are full of heavy hearts, failed marriages, missed connections, youthful melancholy, and maturing reflections. There’s joy, but it’s between the somber sway of pedal steel and the bittersweet twang of guitar strings. I offer this mix as a companion to solo drives as the sun dips low and endless stretches of road lie ahead, or rainy evenings on the porch alone. It’s a solitary set of songs, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no hope in its heart.

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James Matthew VII

There’s been a wealth of psychedelic country flooding the speakers of late, and I for one couldn’t be happier. Adding to this year’s patch of low-valley shimmer is Canadian songwriter James Matthew (De Long) VII. A longtime studio vet and songwriter, he’d originally found his way to the front of the fray with fellow punk tuned pop magnate Ben Cook in No Warning before the pair went on to softer shores with Marvelous Darlings. From there he found himself subsumed into the session life contributing to Tina Turner and Bone Thugs n’ Harmony records all while still popping up on Canada’s finest (Young Guv, Yacht Club, Matthew ‘Doc’ Dunn LPs). All sounds like the perfect setup for an alt-country comedown, eh? Well, maybe. After branding himself Blind Matty he shifted to the slide-swapped shimmer of country for Burger Records, eventually dropping the moniker in favor of a tag closer to the name on his government issue.

His debut LP for Canadian powerhouse of psychedelic ephemera Idée Fixe Records sees him crystallize his vision for twang-tinted ramble. The record pulls at classic psych-country touches handed down from Flying Burritos, Country Funk and Mighty Baby while tumbling headlong into the cloud of smoke that surrounds latter day saints like Beachwood Sparks. De Long makes good on his twenty-odd years behind the strings for others, pulling in guest spots here from an enviable gathering of talent – Augie Meyers (Sir Douglas Quintet, Bob Dylan), Daddy Long Legs, Bill Cutler (Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir), John Catfish (Psychic Ills, Nude Party), Sean Dean (The Sadies), and Matthew ‘Doc’ Dunn (U.S. Girls, MV&EE). The stacked bench pays off with songs that feel lived-in and natural, heartbreaking and melancholy. The record pulls off the heat-shimmer psychedelia bouncing off the blacktop while still feeling like a leathered country classic that could easily stand another twenty years and sound timeless. This is yet another release swooping in at the tail end of 2019, so don’t let the rush to quantify the last eleven months overshadow one of the years’ best.



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