That feeling when you discover a new band for the first time, falls in love with their sound and songs, and actually spend time fearing the fact that they’ll go their separate ways before they fulfil their obvious potential. That feeling is a huge part of the reason why we spend our free time listening to crappy music sent our way, in search for those rare gems that we hope others will appreciate just as much.
The Far West fell into my lap sometime in 2011, and I fell hard for their debut album The Far West, with their mix of traditional country and real alt.country the way Uncle Tupelo and Whiskeytown did it way back when. The band started out as a obscure craigslist-ad, only consisting of a link to a Waylon Jennings-video. The newly assembled five-piece recorded their first album at a American Legion Hall, while the bar was open, and it sounds so fresh and still so vintage.
Since then, the band has changed line-up, replacing pedal-steel maestro Erik Kristiansen who was vital to the sound on the first album, and instead keyboard-virtuoso James Williamson become a vital part of their new sound.
Where they earlier sounded like Gram Parsons and Waylon Jennings mixed with the countrier side of early Son Volt, they now sound more like Waylon Jennings crossed with the more rocking side of Son Volt, with a touch of Uncle Tupelo, Bottle Rockets and generous amounts of The Backsliders.
And they have somehow managed to sound even BETTER then before.
Williamson really shines on this album, where his contibutions on the electric piano and the organ are some of my favourite parts. But the band sounds really great. So tight and together, like a BAND. But as good as they are, without Lee Briantes vocals they would have been just another band. With his exceptional voice, he lifts this band beyond that of being “just another band”, and his voice really suits their music.
The songs are written by Briante and bassplayer Robert Black, the two original founders of The Far West. And where other bands with two songwriters tend to get distinctively different types of songs, their songs seem to merge together, without losing their style in the process.
“Any Day Now” opens with Briantes song “On The Road”, where he takes a look at L.A. and Hollywood, seen from an outsiders perspective. After forming the band, Briante moved from Hudson Valley to L.A, where the band now recides.
Everyone’s chasing a ghost
Everyone’s chasing a dream
Everyone’s the next Monroe
Everyone’s the next James Dean
It’s a long, long, long dusty road
And we all are travelling alone
He writes about Hudson Valley in the song “Hudson Valley, and talks about his old homeplace with longing in his voice, while Williamsons saloon-sounding piano sets the mood.
I was standing at the station
watching trains leave all day long
Black also talks about places from his youth, when he in “Wichita” talks about a place and a time that meant a lot to him, while the band as a whole channels The Jayhawks with steady perfection.
Old 97’s and The Backsliders are obvious inspirations to the kick-ass “The Bright Side”, where Black basically just tells the world to fuck off, while Bakkers guitarsolo is as delicious as they come.
There’s a couple of beautiful ballads here too, especially the “could-have-been-plucked-from-Claptons-Slowhand”-ish “These Arms Will be Empty”, and “She’s Gonna Leave Him Too”, which is heartbreaking it’s own brilliance. And let’s not forget the closing song “Across The Bend”, which is just the kind of song that I recommend hearing while sitting down, as it will make your knees weak in it’s beauty.
Looking at this from the outside of the US, this just feels like a dusty trip through the US, meeting people along the way, everyone with a story to tell – sad or happy. And The Far West just draws from a rich history of music, where their sound which is so solidly anchored in genuine and original alt.country, still sounds like what you would guess Americana should sound like – if you just heard the name of the genre.
Fuck, I LOVE this album! I’m calling it Essential Listening.