“To be a westerner means, basically that you have roots from somewhere else, no matter who you are…” John Paul Smith says in the intro, setting into motion the journey of history and heartache the listener is about to take when the needle drops on Coal Creek Boys latest LP Out West. After the spoken word intro, the band leads into the title track and the journey officially begins.
It’s hard to describe just exactly what kind of record Out West is because it’s one of those special albums that seems to lend itself to a bigger picture of history rather than a particular genre of music. Lush instrumentation of acoustic guitar, mandolin, violin, and slide guitar paired with mournful gruff vocals all come into play here just as any decent Americana record but despite that certain flavoring, hints of folk and flirtation with outlaw country, Coal Creek Boys have achieved something that is tragically lost in the output of most artists of the genre; the art of storytelling. Tales of love, loss, heartache and hope successfully intertwine in out of a narrative that makes the album feel as if you are hearing these tales from the very people who lived them. It’s within that storytelling aspect that makes this album so majestic.
Between two beautiful instrumental tracks Code Of The Woods and Ashokan Farewell is the bleak War Bride, a dark haunting tale of a hardworking mother losing her husband to the war, told in such a way that you can visualize the scenes unfold as if you were watching them on film. The same cinematic formula is equally as effective on The Letter, a story of two lovers torn apart by the war and using an old love letter as the sole memento of their relationship if the soldier doesn’t make it home. The angry, bitter Deadwood weaves a gritty tale of angst, murder, and revenge better than any western movie has in the past 25 years. Each song digs deeper in the folklore of history and tradition without becoming one bit boring. While younger listeners may not be able to relate lyrics to their own lives in modern times, but the stories told here are a slice of history and despite being about turn of the century wars and America in it’s infancy, they are timeless. Those younger listeners just may learn a thing or do about the mindset and lively hood of their forefathers.
There is so much passion and heart-felt emotion is the performance of this LP that it didn’t surprise me one bit when I read the small disclaimer in the album sleeve; “What you hear is what you get…no tricks, no autotune, bells or whistles. Just hand crafted, 100% organic music, made Out West, bumps and mistakes included for your listening pleasure.”. The entire record was recorded live in a 120 year old church where the band recorded each song in one take, giving the album a raw, authentic feeling that plays up the storytelling element even more. You can hear the natural reverb in the acoustic guitars, and the tiny imperfections in the vocals in every single song, making it just as much a live album as it is a studio release. The recording technique gives even more life to the album, making it one of the most realistic releases of the year by far.
On the release side, Out West is available on the band’s Bandcamp and of course Itunes, but where this album really comes into it’s own is the limited edition vinyl release from Classic Waxxx Records, a Texas based indie label that specializes in both classic reissues as well as up and coming, honest to goodness artists such as Coal Creek Boys. The packaging on the vinyl release features Canadian/Americana folk art that acts as sort of a visual scrap book of the area of which the stories on Out West are told. With only a limited number of 300 produced, it will certainly be a wonderful piece for fans of the band but also vinyl collectors the same. The whole thing seems like a marriage made in heaven between label and artist. On this label, the band is in good hands and with it’s beautiful packaging and lush mastering, this album will fit right in with any respectable Audiophile’s collection.
Overall Out West isn’t much of an album that you casually listen to doing your workout routine or a road trip, it’s more of a personal album that begs to be listened to with undivided attention. The warm inviting sound of the vinyl release perfectly matches the raw emotion and delicate storytelling the album has to offer and I can’t think of a better way to enjoy it than turning the lights down and relaxing with a mug of hot apple cider (or bourbon, for those of you who drink) and just letting the stories and performance soak in. Coal Creek Boys has crafted a beautiful album that stands out among one of the best releases of the year, and has made a life long fan in me. If you are a fan of Americana, folk, Alt-country, or just good old fashioned vintage storytelling, look no further than Out West, it’s truly a special album that defies genres, and as a vinyl release, it will be cherished for many years to come.
For band info, tour dates, and news, visit the Official Website of Coal Creek Boys.
To purchase Out West on limited edition vinyl, visit Classic Waxxx Records