Saturday, May 9, 2009

Bye and Bye, They Will Come

The Western States - Bye and Bye (Dollartone Records 2009)

The Western States are purveyors of western-flavoured rock. Doesn't tell you much, does it? I've seen the band labelled alt-country or pop country, but those don't fit either; sometimes I find myself thinking it's all more like The Band than Wilco, more Neil Young than Son Volt...but The Western States don't ape anyone or wear any monkeysuits.

But it ain't too often a band from Winnipeg rolls on down to Austin to avail themselves of a place they could ignore computer wizrdry and track live to tape - maybe that explains more about the band than I can. And maybe the striking old-time album art is another clue to where the music fits in the fractured mirror of our genre-bending, socially-connected world - frontier meshing with industry.

Opening track Time To Lose lays out the template for most of the other tunes, with world-weary prairie drawl cozying up to sweet pedal steel, simple acoustic guitar, straighforward bass, and restrained drums. Sample lyric, "Been let down a thousand times/Shoulda read between the lines". Fictional Divide picks up the tempo with some fine honky-tonk electric piano, strong strumming, and some tasteful electric gee-tar. Backslider's Wine opens up even more, with a wide-awake vocal approach leading the band through the closest the band gets to a loose, rollicking tune. Organ and trumpet round out the feel-good moment. Then we get Right of Return, which gets back to the quiet, sleepy, plaintive voice echoing through your head. The Water Remembers My Name offers some stellar twangy guitar (worth the price of admission alone) as well as a deceptively catchy gospelly singalong chorus. Wichita County features almost-whispered vocals and pretty acoustic guitar. Used to the Rain starts off like a Wallflowers tune, with a Hammond-sounding organ swelling and waning; I could easily imagine Jakob Dylan croaking out this almost makes me want to revisit that band (who I always ignored). Oustanding Balance returns to the easy pace of someone who's seen or felt too much.

Finally we reach the album's epic highlight, The Road is Dark as the Night, a sprawling expansive builder, from spare acoustic to understated trumpet and barely-controlled feedback twisting out of that tall-grass twang. The band takes their time with this one, and the superb production and mixing of this whole record reaches its apex - Daniel Lanois would probably appreciate this one. I'll Be Free finishes off with a melancholy ode to..escaping slavery? prison release? ditching a relationship? Subtle guitar and fiddle accompaniment lets Sean Buchanan's warm, soothing warble take center stage. Take a last look at the fine album art really makes me wish it was coming out on vinyl...and then maybe a t-shirt. Goodnight, Cleveland.

Sample all songs at

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