A hefty dose of melodic nostalgia from Riders Of The Canyon, underpinned by graceful arrangements and a confident and competent vocal backline.
Release Date: 23rd June 2023
Label: Great Canyon Records
Format: CD / vinyl / digital
Another blink and you’ve (maybe) missed it side project, this time from the much admired Catalonian singer-songwriter, Joana Serrat, she whose 2021 release, Hardcore From The Heart, captured so many, um, hearts. Spanish Americana is loosely her bag, not such a long grasp, if you remember where Sergio Leone actually filmed all his movies. To give a slightly raspier feel, she has here hooked up with three like-minded souls for some desert grit, the album following an earlier EP. And it’s good, the ideal sort of fare for all the country/American festivals popping up all over the UK: Red Rooster, Maverick and, of course, Black Deer, where she has previously appeared, if back in 2019.
Who the three? Northern Irish singer-songwriter Matthew McDaid and Catalonians, Roger Usart and Victor Partido, each singers and most providing the additional strum of guitar. Joined by a veritable panoply of guests, befitting the peripatetic laying down of tracks, between Barcelona, Nashville and London, to name but three of the recording locations. So we get Joey McClellan and his wildfire electric guitar, together with drummer McKenzie Smith, both best known from Midlake, McClellan’s brother Aaron, bassist for Israel Nash is also on board, as is the Delines’s keyboard maestro, Cory Gray. That’s just for starters, with, then, also the coup of enlisting none other than the great B.J. Cole on one track, adding some suitably stellar pedal steel. Which alone and already has me signed up!
The record kicks off with the aggressively infectious and uplifting riff of Master Of My Lonely Time, a glorious jangle that isn’t unakin to Mazzy Star fronting R.E.M. With a propulsive motorik beat, the song positively oozes lighters in the sky anthem status, and is a tremendous start. Joey McClellan’s solo is astounding, ricocheting around all five dimensions. Wowee!! To show this is no one-trick filly, McDaid then takes the vocal lead for Dirty Water, actually, as is the song, a song written by Serrat, and it is another jangle fest, with magnificent choral vocals and more sniping guitar. A reference point might be War On Drugs, the song having the same widescreen feel Adam Granduciel can effortlessly bring to bear. Here In My Dreams slows things right down into a woozy psychedelic haze, Victor Partido now taking up the microphone, adding a touch of Nick Cave, in sprechgesang mode, if Cave ever did country. A leisurely clip-clop rhythm carries the melody, with steel, for this one, Jason Kardong, weaving in and around like a happy halo. As it ends, it veers off into the campfire light for a glorious coda. Am I hearing an album of the year?
A fourth voice, Roger Usart, chimes in over some fingerpicked acoustic, his lugubrious baritone adding a gorgeous melancholy. The weird atmospheric noises that grace this mournful ballad are Mr Cole at his best, summoning up an electrical storm, far away on the horizon of a dying day. The chorale of bvs add to a delightfully spooky feel, which changes with a burst of Last Train To Clarksville type guitar, Everything Blooms In Spring, over which Partido declaims some suitable dire end-of-world warnings, with a chorus as poppy as Petula’s song of the same name. A masterful concoction, before McClellan goes AWOL once more, for another savage solo. Then, as you wonder where she’s got to, Serrat is back for the title track, a technicolor old west feel with steel and acoustic to underline the mood. You expect coyotes to howl, or, maybe a lonesome trumpet. Maudlin piano continues to add to the overall picture of a dilapidated regret, before, yes, stetsons in the air, Gray adds some muted trumpet, for the faded glory of conclusion.
Sunrising is a chunky and catchy country-rock tune that could come straight from the poppier end of the Capricorn roster, circa 1975. I’m thinking Hughie Thomassons’s Outlaws, the songs also featuring another corker of a guitar solo, that wouldn’t, either, disgrace that band. Partido sings and holds it together, even as it splinters forcefully at the close. Lifting another clear influence, McDaid then channels vintage Neil Young, harmonica included, for Wild River, somehow morphing into the love child of John Denver and Neil Diamond, female backing singers a little too much for me, if nonetheless effective at evoking the intended mood. A shared verse from Partido adds to the slightly schizoid mix, which somehow holds all these diversities somehow intact.
Some Kinda Addiction has all the roll of classic Fleetwood Mac, to the extent I’d love to hear the soundtrack on the tour bus. Serrat on lead, the instrumental build is technically sound, if the song becomes a little derivative. A small and moot point, the song losing lustre purely through the competition elsewhere across the disc. Good slide guitar, too. Which only leaves the slow desert waltz of Sorrow Song, Usart adding his doomy prophet tones to the gradually building epic, brass swelling up again in the background, a repetitive drum beat like a smoke signal. Calexico fronted by Robert Fisher, and a tremendous end to a surprising disc, chock full of musical myths and fables from a time beginning to fade.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this, having primed myself for the “Joana Serrat and” show, finding anything but, the project a clear and equal relationship between all four singers and players, helped in no small part by an A team of participants. File under very very good and do not lose the place. Despite the myriad influences and the roster of contributing musicians and the shared production of John Morgan Askew, Joey McClellan, McKenzie Smith and the band, it hold together cohesively and confidently.
(It is probably worth noting that the album reprises the five tracks that pre-empted this album as an eponymous EP, last summer. I make this point, if only to prevent you making the same mistake as did I, immediately rushing back to complete the collection!)
Here’s Master Of My Lonely Time: