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Psych Country Review and Spur at The Redlight
Friday, August 24, 2012
At the bar with a glass of blood red wine and the heartbreaking lonely sound of a pedal steel guitar echoing in the evening ambience of The Redlight. Psych Country Review from Corvallis, Oregon is gathering together. Cowboy hats and beards. They start off with an excellent Waylon Jennings cover, Lonesome O'nry and Mean. Big country sound for the small space. Julia Rosen’s vocals spark immediate associations with Neko Case and Maria McKee - hints of Patsy Cline. They follow with another cover, Mental Revenge, and I figure any band that starts off a set with two Waylon Jennings songs will most likely do no wrong. Barry Walker’s pedal steel traces elegant musical lines through Jawsh Holmes excellent guitar work. Ronjon Datta’s boardwork is subtle and evocative. Jake Sellers drumming is restrained but perfect for the small space and is tightly linked with Travis Whitmer’s solid bass guitar. Beautiful country music played from down deep in the soul in such a way that seems to work a weird alchemy, turning pain into expressive joy.
Third song in, an original, Prisoner’s Dilemma, begins in a semi-dissonant cacophony, Spaghetti Western guitar, Gypsy caravan rhythms before unfolding into a slow burning ballad of betrayal. The band all seem like caged tigers, Rosen’s vocals so strong she probably doesn’t even need the mic, guitar and pedal steel uncoiling riffs around her. There is a feeling however that the constraint of the small room is focusing the music, concentrating it in order to transcend the limitations of the form. One of my favorite qualities of The Redlight is when people are up and dancing, as they are now, the whole place moves: floorboards bending, bar swaying, the walls warping to the deep American Pulse of the Psych Country sound. It is Thomas Hart Benton painting “The Sources of Country Music” come to life. They follow with A Song for Hal, a slow piece with beautiful layers of sound from the bass and pedal steel, the guitar plaintive. Traces of Uncle Tupelo and Gram Parsons. An electric and slightly overclocked cover of Dwight Yoakum’s Guitars, Cadillacs caps off the excellent set.
Next up is Spur. One of the handful of regular groups that plays down the street at Cap’s. Like the Cherry Blossom Family Delivery, Spur has an intentional laid back, almost drunken, country sound. It’s hard to define – which is one of the qualities that makes it interesting. Songs for broken, lost and lonely souls, soundtrack for the memories that gather together at the bottom of the bottle. They come on, announcing: “We are Spur: cowboy boots and flip-flops, breaking down the barriers.” Start off with an original, Another Train Song, the sound falling together like a gang of drunken cowboys on dreaming horses. They follow with a slowed down cover of Johnny Horton’s Springtime in Alaska: “The song she kept singin' made a man's blood run cold / When it's Springtime in Alaska, it's forty below.” One of those old cowboy songs that no one plays anymore and everyone loves and Spur makes relevant and cool.
A few songs later a poignant and evocative cover of the Theme Song from the Searchers, full of alienation and abandonment: “What make a man turn his back on home?” The black silhouette of John Wayne in the doorway walking away into the desert. This is Old West Gothic, dark country music, Walker’s pedal steel arabesques are ghosts wailing on the train, Shaw’s alternating bass walking across a dead land in a fevered dream full of doomed cowboy nostalgia, enormous piles of buffalo skulls shivering while Yayoi rings Tibetan bells and Valerie wails on the flute. Kevin’s slow brush on the drums like Shiva’s breath. Shane’s vocals full of lonely laconic hard won wisdom. Then an original by Walker, Don't stop by (my dreams tonight), a song so lovely that it brings to Hart Crane’s Bridge to mind: a structure purely evocative of loss and memory. Next, a cover of Ernest Tubb’s Driving Nails In My Coffin has everyone drinking. Further down the line, an almost signature cover for Spur, Ghost Riders in the Sky, is hauntingly performed in such a way that it could be the soundtrack to Holbein’s Dance of Death. Something beautiful and strange is in the room: weird whistles and chimes, sad stringed instruments and haunting rhythms, music composed of dark fragments of a lost western dream… in other words, Spur.