(Nine Mile Records)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
If you enjoy this indie/Americana debut “friend record” (let’s not get overly ambitious and call it a “supergroup”), thank tequila. If you don’t, you can blame it.
Because that — and likely other alcoholic beverages — was apparently involved when Delta Spirit’s Matthew Logan Vasquez and Austin’s Adrian Quesada (Brownout) approached singer-songwriter David Ramirez to suggest they join with other like-minded peers and record a “stream-of-consciousness” record. That got the ball rolling to invite songwriters Noah Gundersen, Austin’s Kelsey Wilson (Wild Child), and Jason Robert Blum involved. Last up was Vasquez’s friend Nathanial Rateliff who brought two of his large band with him as backup. This somewhat impromptu aggregation squirreled themselves away, with plenty of tequila, for nine days in the New Mexico town of Glorieta (minus the extra “t” in the band’s name) to see what would happen artistically with no pressure.
While the result isn’t exactly Golden Smog, let alone Traveling Wilburys, quality — other groups of talented friends that similarly coalesced — this also isn’t some unruly drunken session, despite the substantial presence of booze (alluded to in the disc’s promotional backstory). Although Rateliff’s name — the highest profile of the ad hoc group — is highlighted, his contribution is only as a co-writer and co-singer on one track, the garage-rocking “I Know.” The album is a diverse set of songs, ranging from the folksy Logan Vasquez, McCartney-esque penned and sung “Friends,” to the snarling, snakelike garage-rocking “Mindy,” co-written and sung by Vasquez and Wilson, and the raw Prince/glam inflected funk of “Heatstroke.” All tracks were penned and recorded quickly without much production, yet sound professionally recorded and not rushed.
Not surprisingly, there is a loose groove to the performances, especially acoustic ones like Blum’s jazzy strum on “Easy Come Easy Go,” complete with fiddle, that shows he’s got at least a few Dan Hicks albums in his collection. His and Gundersen’s “Lincoln Creek,” a downbeat acoustic ballad about a songwriter (which might be him) living an unglamorous life of one nighters, is tough and cringingly intimate in a raw Jackson Brown-styled portrait of the darker side of a minstrel’s life. There’s a Springsteen/BoDeans ambiance to Ramirez’s tough strum rocking “The Hard Way,” and Gundersen’s “Golden Lonesome,” with its faraway vocals and noirish singer-songwriter Americana approach, is as good as anything on his albums.
The disc loses some steam in its final quarter with three of its closing four ballads. Still, this experiment of sorts, even with its built-in eclecticism, yields enough entrancing moments to be considered a low key success. Perhaps it’s also a testament to creative camaraderie, enhanced partly by alcohol, and how musical talent can survive and even thrive, in unlikely recording situations.