Cinematic southern alt-goth country rock, anyone? Regardless, jump in, it’s lovely.
Release date: 10th June 2022
Label: Submarine Cat
Felix Bechtolsheimer is nothing but resourceful and his band, Curse Of Lono, can never be said to be daunted by disappointment. To be fair, Bechtolsheimer really is Curse Of Lono these days, implying no disrespect to the stellar players he surrounds himself with, but, as the singer and songwriter, it is he who has had to keep the show on the road.
Covid was one such misfortune, as, with the ground running beneath them; two well-received albums and garnering quite a name on the live circuit, paralysis and disarray beckoned, as most of the band peeled off for the necessity of day jobs and an income. Rather than killing off the b(r)and, Bechtolsheimer plugged in and provided a third album, more or loss alone, give or take some judiciously phoned in favours from friends and acquaintances, padding out the sound beyond his resounding baritone voice and selection of baritone guitars, effects pedalled to the max. That record, People In Cars, was certainly a favourite chez Og last year, as, in truth, were the earlier ones. So it was with some delight came news that he had hired him a new live band and that they were hitting the road. A tour throughout May has now been followed by this release, a ‘live in the studio’ document, showing off the revitalising effects of having a team of musicians interacting and playing off each other, with new versions of some of the stand-out songs from People In Cars.
So what does cinematic gothic alt-rock actually mean, for that is how the band brand on their social media? I am pleased to say it is a somewhat lighter chalice than it sounds, with sweeps of country influence permeating the lights down low ambience that embraces both rock, roll, the blues and folk. Where the Doors meet The Band is one of Bechtolsheimer’s aims, and it isn’t a bad concept or description if either band had ever had a pedal steel guitar. That’s the tunes, but there is precious little light in the lyrics: there have been long and drawn battles with both alcohol and opiates for the writer to endure, and his history and his fascination around the how’s and why’s of addiction prove a source for much his material. Add in the recent deaths of family and friends and these are lyrics that may instill a gulp or two.
From the opener, Steppin’ Out, you can already hear Bechtolsheimer is in a better place. Over a swampy JJ Cale-esque shuffle, rather than the ragged wisp of a voice from last years’ album, here is a deep and warm broth of a voice, rich and resonating, as steel shimmers around the whole. From a song of retreat, it has become a song of intent and stepping forward rather than back. The dark lyrics even sound hopeful rather than hopeless. Joe Harvey-Whyte, also of Hanging Stars, plays pedal steel that sings like a freight train, with the rhythm section replicating the rattle along the tracks. Wonderful. Similarly, Man Down, another frankly depressing song of defeat in the original iteration. Actually about the death of his father. Beautiful, but very dark. The new version here accentuates the beauty of the melody, but sets it within a far more elegiac setting. The piano offers greater clarity, and, from a near solo voice and guitar, there is the slow and gradual entry of more lonesome steel, cello (Nina Kiva) slowly swelling and spectral backing vocals (Bo Lucas) just about audible. The piano, by Carlos de los Santos, apparently called in to play at the 11th hour, finally picks up again and closes the track, much as it began.
It is back to the swampland for Buy The Ticket, Take The Ride, which, with a squint of the ear, could be Dire Straits at their peak. Harvey-Whyte, now on lead electric, is on fire and the rhythm section choogle away, locked in the groove. The closest to the original song here, it, as do they all, benefits from the clarity of sound attained by Iain Berryman, who recorded and produced the whole set. Maintaining the fast, slow, fast, slow plot line emerging, Don’t Take Your Love Away, simply a gorgeous ballad on the parent album, here transforming into a sumptuous duet. In the classic mould of love songs to other than fellow humans, I think it pretty unlikely to be about anything other than heroin, and the lyrics instil some real sense of the wretchedness of impending withdrawal. (Mind you, what do I know, it possibly being all about girls on the beach too…..) Bo Lucas’s vocals are smoky and sad, her lines seeming to bear witness to Bechtolsheimer’s narrative. It, like Man Down, is just astonishingly good and astonishingly moving.
Final track, Kathleen, bucks the trend, and is slow to mid-tempo, music for staring out of windows to. The military rolling drums (Chris Jones) set the scene for a battle song of the republic feel and is a wistful reflection, Harvey-Whyte now on slide. If I haven’t mentioned the bass player, Tom Sansbury, consider that credit to his unobtrusive presence, just being there, his ballast otherwise unnoticed, nonetheless essential. Kathleen is the only song not on People In Cars, being from the second album, As I Fell. It is a mournful and fitting end to a short record that has you, or me, at least, craving more. I can’t think of a better introduction to this band if you are as yet unlucky enough not to know of them. And, if drawn in enough to go listen, check out also 2019’s 4 a.m. And Counting, where a similar itch was scratched, another live in the studio reworking, at that time of songs from As I Fell and Severance, the debut.
Here’s Man Down:
Categories: EP Review