When you receive a copy of a CD along with a letter that reads, "What does a girl have to do in this town to get her CD reviewed?", you laugh for just a little bit and then get down to reviewing.
This is the story of how I fell in love with Lights of Santa Fe, the newest release of country covers from Cathy Faber's Swingin' Country Band. Recorded at Kitchen Sink Studios right here in good ol' New Mexico, Lights is the kind of album that sticks with you long after you've hit stop; it's a tremendous accomplishment and a credit to our local scene.
There's just something about Lights that feels so right. It may be an oddly comfortable sense of familiarity, it may be the unbelievably great music found throughout the record. Or it may even be that it's simply nice to hear a local country band play so beautifully. Whatever the reason, I can't stop rocking this thing, and I'm bummed I haven't paid Faber and crew more attention before now.
There's a personal touch that adds new dimension to the album's 15 covers. You'll surely know some of these songs, but with such a talented roster of local musicians (Augé Hays on pedal steel/dobro, Geroge Langston on guitar, Britt Alexander on drums and Faber with vocals and a vintage upright bass), it's like hearing them for the first time. Faber credits strong connections within the band for its infectiously catchy sound.
"We're all seasoned musicians who have played together in various configurations for a long time now," she says. "My guys are all incredible, and we're a band you can easily listen to…all of our music is very danceable."
Faber proves this tenfold with tracks like "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad." By adding a faster tempo and a surf-esque beat to the Tammy Wynette classic, the band just about treads into straight up rock 'n' roll territory. Hays' pedal steel solo toward the middle is the stuff that musical dreams are made of, and he hits some impressively fast speeds without sacrificing complexity. Faber's pitch-perfect vocals add emotional depth to the song while steering clear of stale, female-country-vocal tropes. Her willingness to layer her own style within the semi-obscure songs throughout the album adds some modern flavor while adhering to the stylistic elements that has always made classic country music so awesome.
Much of Lights is upbeat and bright because, according to Faber, "We don't really like to play negative songs." There are, however, a couple tearjerkers. You can almost feel the loneliness in Faber's voice on Johnny Harris' cowboy anthem, "Voice of the Big Guitar," and the record's title track—"Lights of Santa Fe" by former Santa Fean Eliza Gilkyson—kills. Faber sings it better than Gilkyson ever did (no letters!). The bright arrangement laid over what is essentially a bum-out tune is an interesting risk that pays off big.
Cathy Faber may not offer up originals just yet, but the country maven did mention she's toying with some songs of her own. As Lights of Santa Fe turned out to be one of the best local albums I've heard in, uh, ever, I look forward to what the band will do next. Oh, and have I mentioned that if you're a fan of country music you should probably get this album as soon as you can? Well, you should.
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