This blog post is about the Austin, Texas alt.country/Americana band, The Lonesome Heroes. I've been listening to the band's first full-length album, Daydream Western, trying to pin down what I like about it, and struggling in an unfamiliar way.
I also spoke to guitarist Rich Russell and gathered some good quotable material. About the album: they mixed the album in a tent on the road, they kept tinkering and remixing even after they released it, and they enlisted a Black Keys producer on the most recent mix. About their tour: they stopped in my old stomping grounds of Jackson Hole, Wyo., and had dinner with some of my friends there; they take backroads instead of interstates because they want to see the countryside; they stay a couple days in each location to get to know the area; they pick up musicians, artists and other gypsies along the way. About art: dobro player/vocalist Landry McMeans makes imaginative cardboard reliefs, depicting Western landscapes in flat, brilliant colors that remind me of old circus machinery or tin ornaments; they seem to come out of a Michel Gondry film. About Santa Fe: they played here back in early February; they're playing Sunday at the Cowgirl; and they’re returning again in May to play at local gallery, Beals and Abbate Fine Art, and to shop Landry’s work around local galleries.
I gathered all this good material, but I feel blocked. And I think this is why: In a New Yorker column last month, music critic Sasha Frere-Jones defends studio fabrication Lana Del Ray on the grounds that popular music itself is inauthentic; that Del Ray doesn’t write her own tunes, or can’t sing, for that matter, has to be viewed in context.
The word for that way of thinking, I believe, is “sophistry”—a verbose, articulate and intelligent argument that takes us nowhere, or nowhere interesting, at least. It’s also disturbingly cynical: his argument is the cultural equivalent of an industrial polluter defending unsafe practices by saying that the whole system pollutes. It seems Frere-Jones takes this stance just to position himself as a clear-headed thinker in a room full of reactionaries; whereas I think we should be reacting to music. It’s an artform, not an industry; it’s a lifestyle, not a public relations pitch.
And I’m coming up with these ideas in the middle of a blog post about the Lonesome Heroes because I think that Russell and McMeans represent the opposite—they give us the confidence, again, to value authenticity in music. Yes, confidence, because their desire to create equals their ability to do so.
Hold on, stay with me. For those of us who live in the West, alt.country/Americana music is not a phenomenon; it’s not a trend coinciding with a Cohen brother film or hipster notions in Brooklyn. Good Americana is difficult to achieve, and it’s not about lo-fi effects, buckets for percussion or recordings made like warehouses. It’s about living in this country, on this land, detaching from the machinations of official culture (aka consumerism) and actually interacting with people we know and love.
I’m not going to pretend that Americana is my favorite genre of music—I tend toward sometimes strange and often outwardly emotional recording artists, plus hip-hop—but I love that Russell and McMeans first set on tour a number of years back with a desire to discover this country for themselves. They decided to tour, first, and then became a band, with McMeans learning how to play the dobro on the road.
At this point, you might be thinking that every college kid from Colorado to Tennessee thinks he’s a country-folk musician, busking on spring break or those first 90 days out of school. But I’m telling you that they can play; they can write a tune; and McMeans, she can sing. When she does, I think of home; not my hometown in the post-industrial Midwest, but the American West—the New West, where young people have returned, turning off their televisions, turning off the interstate, and turning off the cynic.
The Lonesome Heroes: 8 pm, Sunday, March 4 Cowgirl, 319 S Guadalupe St. 982-2565
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