David Lerner of Trummors on Cowboy – Reach For The Sky

I’ve been particularly excited for the upcoming Trummors LP, Dropout City. The LP sees David Lerner and Anne Cunningham perfecting their wide-skied country-folk approach with an album that’s sunburned and bittersweet. The album slides in on buttery leads, breezy harmonies, and a sense of ease that’s hard to resist. The band’s been building up to a record that sounds this effortless and lived-in over the past few years, but it’s hard to deny that this is a high-water mark for their brand of alt-country saunter. I asked David to lock in a pick for the Hidden Gems series and it sidles in nicely alongside their new LP. I love it when artists pick an album I’m unfamiliar with, but his one’s gonna be an album to get acquainted with pretty quick. Check out Lerner’s take on Cowboy’s 1970 debut below.

“As legend has it,” ruminates Lerner, “the post-psychedelic, post-Summer of Love years of 1967-1974 were the rock and roll extension of the Back to the Land movement. Following in the footsteps of Dylan’s John Wesley Harding, Music From Big Pink, and Workingman’s Dead, truckloads of sepia-toned “rural” records hit the bins to satisfy a troubled and war-addled nation’s pastoral fantasies. Many of these LPs have ended up on our shelves–some widely celebrated, others deservedly obscure–and we’ve barely scratched the surface! Of all these, though, Cowboy’s Reach For the Sky was the clear choice for Hidden Gem status…no one quite did lighthearted but thoughtful country-rock like these guys from Macon, Georgia.” 


Reach For the Sky, Cowboy’s debut, was on ATCO/Atlantic, but their subsequent records were on Capricorn, home of the Allman Brothers,” notes David. “Due to the association, Cowboy is sometimes pigeonholed as a footnote to the Allmans — sort of a Badfinger to their Beatles, to use an equally unfair comparison. In fact, Duane Allman took a hiatus from the Brothers to join Cowboy as a full-time member, and although his time with the band was brief, his dobro is on Cowboy’s best-known single, “Please Be With Me.” That song is on Cowboy’s equally great second LP 5’ll Get You Ten, and also appears on Duane Allman An Anthology.

“Picking a favorite between Reach For the Sky and 5’ll Get You Ten is tough,” admits Lerner, “but luckily, you don’t have to. They’re available as a 2fer titled Why Quit When You’re Losing, which is a great place to start if you’re new to the band. To generalize, Reach For the Sky has a more wonky down-home feel with acoustic guitars, fiddle, and piano prominent in the mix, while 5’ll Get You Ten is a bit more consistent in terms of songwriting and production, and features the crucial addition of founding member Scott Boyer’s pedal steel. Boyer isn’t flashy, but his ability to weave an integral melody line is comparable to Garcia’s work with the Dead and Crosby, Stills, and Nash.”  

Reach For the Sky’s first song, simply titled “Opening,” establishes the record’s unhurried pace: “I need time/To find out/Where I’m going,” the boys sing in ragged three part harmony, setting the tone for what’s to follow. The second track, despite its shopworn title “Livin’ in the Country,” became something of a mission statement for us. I put it on a mixtape titled “Cowboys, Exiles, and Desert Troubadours,” which received a nice response (you can find that on Mixcloud). The song describes the familiar push-pull between the open country and an L.A. where according to Cowboy “the street life was a hassle/And the people turned me down.”

David recalls, “When it came time for us to record Dropout City, we were happy to be “on the eastern side of town” beside those freeways Cowboy eschewed for less hectic and cutthroat environs. “Don’t you think it’s better/Livin’ in the country?” the song asks. Well, to be honest, not always. I guess the grass is always greener. Other album highlights include the stoner wisdom of “Use Your Situation,” and the gorgeous “It’s Time,” Cowboy’s obligatory nod to the languid and falsetto laden CSNY sound ubiquitous in 1971.”

“According to my eBay history, we bought a promo copy of Reach For the Sky in September 2015. Cowboy’s LPs were then making the rounds in my online record buddy groups, and after previewing a few samples I was hooked. Not the most magical origin story, admittedly, but sometimes records find you at just the right place and time and that was definitely the case with this one. Anne and I had come to the end of our first year as newcomers to Taos, where Western/cowboy myths and imagery are part of everyday life; these themes were finding their way into the songs that would become Headlands. As a duo working with outside players, and with limited studio time, our approach was obviously much different from Cowboy’s communal farmhouse vibes, but it’s fair to say their music was an important influence on us at that point and going forward.” 
 

“With its deskilled Crayola stick figure and butte cover art and song titles like “Song of Love and Peace,” it’s clear with Cowboy that we’re dealing with that particular 1970s sub-species: the Cosmic Cowboy. Perhaps in reaction to the cowboy’s historic link to violence, dispossession of Native land, and imperialism, 70s hippies and ordinary middle class kids alike appropriated cowboy style and merged it with more peaceful and philosophical inclinations. Indeed, the cowboy has been subject to almost endless revision in American culture: films like Brokeback Mountain, novels like Leslie Silko’s Ceremony, and the hit “Old Town Road” attest to this basic openness to inclusive transformation. In this spirit, Trummors have played with cowboy iconography as well, and discovering the band Cowboy was a key part of that aesthetic direction.”

The record is truly a gem and, like I said, I love it when bands bring something to my attention. Seems that availability on this one is mixed. Its up through streaming, if that’s your thing. CDs seem, in varying iterations, quite expensive and hard to come by. LPs can be had for the right price with some digging. Its easy to see how this band has trickled into the sounds of Trummors and I’d highly recommend pairing it with the band’s new album coming up on Ernest Jenning this month.

Support the artist. Buy it HERE.

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