The first time I put The Far West in the CD player, I immediately looked at my husband and said, “Whiskeytown.” The first song on the record, “Bitter, Drunk, and Cold,” seems like it could have been recorded during the same session as a B-side like “Kiss & Make Up”. Along with the killer slide parts and the traditional country shuffle, the lyrics are great: standard themes, but well-written and blunt in a really attractive “revivalist golden-era” way:
When I first came here, I guess I was in love
I heard wedding bells, I saw the white dove
But one shoe dropped, and the other fell
I broke her heart and it went to hell
This town has made me bitter, drunk, and cold
And really, I’m a sucker for that combination: slide guitar, leisurely country, solid, direct lyrics– but The Far West has that x-factor which makes a disk stand out. The band is a combination of four talented musicians who’ve played all across the country (and across all genres– drummer Tony Sanborn has played jazz and zydeco as well as Americana). Lyricist and singer Lee Briante brings a classic sound to the vocals– he’s got the same ambling quality of a Guy Clark or a John Hiatt, but he’s surrounded by, for the most part, much honky-tonk-ier music than that. It’s hard for me to listen to this at all and not think of Stranger’s Almanac. This is clearly the right combination of musicians and parts.
In songs like, “A Town Called Lonesome,” Briante’s drawl makes the song feel warmer and sadder, all while maintaining enough of a distance to listen to it without getting too sad. This is a pretty unique trait: a lot of the best country (and yes, I’m looking at Townes Van Zant) can be so dark and so sad that I feel both enveloped in it and changed by it. The Far West has made a CD that comes to you where you are and offers what you need in that place, whether it’s a good country song to have on in the background, or something a little more substantive in a time of genuine need. As if the band weren’t strong enough, bassist Robert Black is an equally strong writer, and with lyrics like–
I’m like a ghost, I walk these streets, and no one sees me go
And even in a crowd I feel alone
When she looks up at the stars tonight, they’re the same ones that I see
But I know she’s not thinking of me
– “A Town Called Lonesome” takes what could have been too much metaphor, too much hyperbole and hits at the core of the problem. If it seems like I’m impressed with the lyrics, I am; as much with their economy as anything. Black is able to pack gutpunches into syllables, and that’s effective in this kind of alt-country.
These songs are certainly a collection for the lost, rambling, and lonely– most of them examine why or how a relationship failed. Of course, that’s common in country music. But that’s also what makes songs like “Bound to Lose” stand out. Sped up like a train, it tells the story of leaving the east coast for the west.
Left my home so I could be alone
You know I left my home when I got that urge to roam
I’m bound to lose, bound to lose
See them girls look so pretty and so fine
You know they break my heart
Nearly every single night
Oh, oh, I’m bound to lose, bound to lose
It’s an almost lighthearted look at the fear and anxiety behind relocating– something pretty close to my heart. I really love this song, and I think it’s mostly because there’s a killer (almost metal-y, scales-ish) guitar part behind the end of the song. The slide guitar is phenomenal on the entire disk (and in fact, I’ve heard that the slide player, Erik Kristiansen, played with Ryan Adams on the ridiculously mysterious “SnowKobra” record), but the guitar is equally entrancing. I’ve seen this classified as “Wilco-meets-Waylon,” and while I see the comparison, I see a little more Uncle Tupelo– this is rougher than Wilco.
But there’s this strange, mournful quality over some of these songs, perhaps best evident in “Good Lord Willing.” Most of the lyrics are, “Good Lord willing/ And the creek don’t rise,” with shorter lyrics woven in between– “He’s going to cure the sick/ He’s going to heal the blind”; “I got fire in my belly/ I got dust in my eyes”; and my favorite, “Come on little baby, we can make it if we try.” There’s an urgency in this song that can only be chalked up to the ethereal music and howl of the slide guitar. The guitar part in between verses feels very much like an old Western radio show– dark and expansive. This song is one of those weird gems that you instantly know you’ll be listening to for a long time. I am pretty hooked on it. Some of the prettiest slide.
Overall, The Far West have put together a phenomenal 15-song effort, and each track feels like a fully realized song. I am really digging this CD, and I have a feeling this is the kind of music that could blow up in the alt-country scene; gritty and dusty, but also extremely polished writing.
VISIT THE FAR WEST ON THE WEB:
BUT. Since this CD did remind me of Whiskeytown, I thought I would go ahead and do my first KDR Cleans House Giveaway!
The night I got this CD, I was actually a little sad– it was the last “Ryan Adams” record I didn’t have at the time, and I knew that would be it for a while before he released a new one. But I drove around all night– pitch dark– out in some of the prettiest country in southern Indiana. My favorite song was and is “Jacksonville Skyline”, maybe because I think the lyrics
Jacksonville’s a city with a hopeless streetlight
Seems like you’re lucky if it ever changes from red to green
I was born in an abundance of inherited sadness
And fifty cent picture frames bought at the five and dime
are some of the best Adams has ever written. And that is saying something, friends. But I would venture as far as to say that this record should be counted in his catalogue– yeah, it’s with Whiskeytown (and for some reason, people write that off), but it’s got the punch of his writing and the best musicianship of any of their disks. So I wasn’t shocked to find out that not only did I have a copy, so did my husband… which means we can pass one on to you!
I could talk about this disk forever, but I won’t…
TO ENTER TO WIN: Leave a comment here or on the Facebook page telling me about your favorite night-driving CD. Winner will be drawn at random in two weeks (10/27).
I will send these anywhere in the continental United States. There will be more chances to win different CDs soon.
These are used CDs. The CDs work and come with the jacket; cases may reflect use.