Cole Quest/Self [En]Titled/Omnivore
Four out of Five Stars
First, let’s dispense with the elephant in the room. When you’re the grandson of someone with the merit and stature of America’s archetypical folk champion Woody Guthrie, you gotta be good. Folks will view you with a critical eye and their expectations are certain to soar.
Indeed, boasting a storied surname may help open a few doors, but the inevitable comparisons can be a deal-breaker as well. Happily then, Cole Quest and his band the City Pickers appear to be up to the task. The musicians—Quest (dobro), Christian Apuzzo (guitar), Mike Mulhollan (banjo), Matheus Verardino (harmonica) and Larry Cook (bass), with guest contributors Sam Reider (organ and Wurlitzer), Sean Trishka (drums) and Erik Alvar (bass)—are far from slouches themselves, and with their new EP Self [En] Titled, each musician brings a seemingly effortless enthusiasm that allows the material shine.
Having made their name in their native New York City, Quest and company are clearly well-equipped to convey the music with a craft and creativity befitting his bloodline. Indeed, the enthusiasm is evident at the outset with the oddly titled “Ostrich Therapy,” while the wit and whimsy not unlike that shared by Quest’s granddad—finds fruition with “Bitcoin Gambler,” a timely commentary on how the modern money market has been transformed by cryptocurrency. The earnest, folk-fueled “Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key” (a Woody Guthrie/Billy Bragg cover) finds another obvious bond with his famous forebear, while the instrumental “7-11/Foggy Mountain Rock” references Flatt and Scruggs, Jim & Jesse and other bluegrass trailblazers. The same can be said of the EP’s final entry, “If I Still Had You,” another take on tradition. The only solemn sound to be found is “My Sweet Little Girl,” a heartbreaking ballad about losing a pet and the pain it entails. It’s lovely but at the same time, all but impossible to listen to without inciting a free flow of tears.
Then again, the ability to affect a listener is a sure sign of skill and savvy. And Quest, like his grandfather, has the ability to convey those feelings with care and compassion. Woody would be proud.