Songs of the desert, the ranch and the road. Ross Cooper – The Lubbock Rodeo Rider – is back!
Release Date: 1st October 2021
Label: Start Swimming Records
Formats: CD, Vinyl, Download
Well – we told you it was on the way, and here it is! Just over a month ago, At The Barrier was privileged to receive a copy of Indian Summer, the new single from Lubbock-via -Nashville singer, songwriter and guitarist of distinction, Ross Cooper. It delighted us and we told everyone we could to keep their eyes and ears open for Ross’s new album – a deluxe edition of his recent gem, Chasing Old Highs. It’s here at last, and it’s a corker!
We’ve already given our readers a condensed bio of Ross Cooper – his Lubbock, Texas origins, his early days as a rodeo rider, his love of horses, his musical influences and his previous work – and I won’t go through all that again, but it’s worth picking up on the references to Ross’s musical influences, as they help in describing the enjoyable, refreshing and reinvigorating sounds on Chasing Old Highs. Ross has always had a fondness for the work of Robert Earl Keen and Townes Van Zandt and a willingness to incorporate Springsteen’s “spirit of the lost road” into his writing. Having listened closely to Chasing Old Highs, I would also suggest that Ross has also been listening to and learning from Jackson Browne, JD Souther, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and even Lyndsey Buckingham to add to his heady mixture…
Chasing Old Highs is an excellent album – let’s make no mistake about that. It’s packed with songs that vividly evoke their south-western US setting and Ross has given himself lots of room to show everyone what he can do on his mid-century Gibson J-50 acoustic and his single-coil Telecaster. His acoustic fingerpicking is sublime and he extracts the full range of tones and voices from his Fender – from gritty, fuzzy, riffs to tearful, bent-string solos. And if all that isn’t enough, the songs are topped off by Ross’s strong, versatile voice that always manages to perfectly suit each song’s subject matter.
The album’s production is spot-on as well. Producer Oscar Charles worked with Ross right from the inception of most of the album’s songs and, between them, Oscar and Ross identified the exact sound they needed to best convey the desert romanticism of the material. In their words, the result was “…not Texas, not Nashville [but] cinematic.” And that’s an excellent description.
Chasing Old Highs is an album that hooks the listener right from the opening bars of the first song, Freewheelin Feelin. A distant cousin to Eagles’ Peaceful Easy Feeling, it’s a happy, breezy rocker with lots of that trademark bendy-note soloing to savour. The excellent Flatlands is an ode to Ross’s native Texas; a strutting rock song, stuffed with references to cotton fields and oil rigs, as Ross succumbs to the nostalgia, declaring that “The Flatland’s calling me home.”
The sound of the Eagles, albeit with a rougher, somehow more authentic edge, is also recalled in the title track, Chasing Old Highs. A song about an ageing rodeo champion who can’t let go of his past, it’s a soaring country ballad with Texan imagery that is as vivid as anywhere on the album. The anthemic Forever To Get There is slower, yet no less powerful, before we get to South of the Angels, the first of what I consider to be the three truly outstanding tracks on the album. With echo-y, chiming guitars, lyrics that vividly describe the Texan desert scenery, and instrumentation that paints a striking image of a lonely, remote, night-time frontier scene, South of the Angels is a truly atmospheric song.
In comparison, the happy, enjoyable Cowboy Picture Show is light, breezy and bouncy; a classic country song with lots of Chet Atkins guitar licks. Hello Sunshine keeps the happy mood rolling, this time in the form of a slide guitar-drenched boogie that wouldn’t be out of place on a Canned Heat album – although the song’s Nashville roots are detectable if you listen closely enough.
Named After A River (Brazos), another bouncy Texan country rocker paves the way for the second of the album’s real highlights, the epic, smouldering Eleven Miles. Starting life as a contemplative acoustic song, Eleven Miles blossoms slowly and almost imperceptibly as, first, spooky keyboard, then crashing drums build the tension before, finally, the whole band come in and turn the song into a soaring anthem. It’s all quite breathtaking!
New Orleans is an enjoyable clean rock ballad with a slight Fleetwood Mac feel that looks at life from the perspective of a lonely, trapped on-the-road musician, before we the third song in that triumvirate of highlights – Long Way From A Long Way From Home – probably the favourite song on the whole album. Ross fingerpicks his Gibson acoustic masterfully as he tells the sad tale of a cowboy who sees his world crumble around him. A brilliant song in which Ross complements his wonderful acoustic picking with some well-chosen lashings of fuzzy Telecaster and a vocal delivery that is probably the best on the album.
Long Way From A Long Way From Home was the closing track on the original February 2021 issue of Chasing Old Highs – unsurprisingly perhaps, as it’s a difficult one to follow. But Ross has managed to do just that with this deluxe version of the album by adding in his two new songs – the single, Indian Summer and the joyous Cowboy Things. In my review of the Indian Summer single, I described the song as “…a hummable, danceable delight that gets right into your bloodstream,” and that’s a description to which I stand by wholeheartedly. Cowboy Things returns to the theme expressed so eloquently in Long Way From A Long Way From Home – the vibrant, yet often sad and lonely life, of a Texan cowboy. Ross fingerpicks his Gibson once again, with a light accompaniment from accordion and violin as he assumes the character of a cowboy, perched high on his palomino and corralling his dairy herd whilst reflecting on the loves and good times that his lifestyle has forced him to forgo. It’s a song that’s impossible to dislike.
Chasing Old Highs is an excellent album that will appeal strongly to anyone with a liking for well-played, no-frills country rock. The songs are the perfect accompaniment to a long, fast drive along a clear, traffic-free highway on a hot summer’s day. If you are fan of country rock or, if you are planning a trip to somewhere with good roads and light traffic (France, for instance…) any time soon, you need to check this one out.
Watch the official video to South Of The Angels – one of the album’s outstanding tracks – here: