I don’t listen to a lot of country music. Nothing against it, just not so much my bag most of the time. It’s not what I was raised on, so I don’t gravitate toward it like I do some other genres of music. Sure, I like the classic country of Haggard, Cash, Nelson, Williams, et al. Now and then the jukebox at my local will crank out some piece of country-pop that catches my ear for one reason or another (I’m looking at you, Midland), but for the most part, I give modern country a pass.
So when I saw Dave & Phil Alvin in 2015, I was surprised at how much I was impressed by their opening act. The Far West tore through their 45-minute opening set in Boston and actually got called back out on stage for an encore by the packed house. They had the good graces to invite Dave to come join them for their one-song encore and the number brought the house down. I’d never heard of them prior to that night, but I was instantly a fan. I picked up a copy of their sophomore album on vinyl that night and got them all to sign it. When I got home I downloaded their self-titled first album.
The Far West was released in January of 2010, near as I can tell. Details are a little hazy on some of these independent releases, and since I don’t have an album in my collection for January 30, I thought I’d revisit this one. It’s an impressive debut, I’ve come to realize, but given that my first impression was formed by watching these fellas on stage, I guess it was inevitable that their studio work would seemingly fall short until I’d listened through it a couple dozen times. It’s slower, heartbroken Americana country, that has far more in common with, say, Ricky Nelson‘s “Lonesome Town” than with Sugarland’s nominally country hit, “All I Want To Do.” In fact, in making that comparison, I realize that, conceptually, the overall mood of this record could succinctly be described as an album-length version of “Lonesome Town.”
That’s not to say the whole album is a downer. It can be if that’s the mood you want to be in and that’s the purpose you want the record to serve, but it doesn’t have to be. With titles as wry and melodramatic as “The Best Company Misery Ever Had,” and “Bitter Drunk And Cold,” it’s hard not to at least smile at the fact that you’ve got a country record with song titles that could have been appropriated from Morrissey’s notebooks. And every midtempo number is so perfectly constructed that it’s hard not to take delight in the craftsmanship even as you wallow in the lugubrious lyrics.
My favorite track from the album is “I’ll Never Drink Again.” It’s slightly reminiscent of The Nails one-hit-wonder from the 80s, “88 Lines About 44 Women.” In it, vocalist Lee Briante recounts his reasons for not drinking specific spirits – turns out every one of them reminds him of a different lover long gone. It’s a clever device – throughout the song, he never states that he’s never drinking again, as the title suggests. Instead, he mentions that, “Cassie was red wine, so I’ll never drink red wine again,” and, “Amy drank whiskey, now I can’t drink whiskey no more.” The song also boasts a great piano bridge from Michael Whiteside that brightens the center segment despite its minor key.
It’s worth noting that despite their relative youth, these fellas weren’t strictly amateurs when they formed The Far West. They’d all left other bands in order to form this one and create something they all felt was missing from the music scene. The legend posted to the band’s website states, “Singer Lee Briante posted a late night Craigslist ad that consisted of nothing more than the text ‘looking to do something like this’. and a Waylon Jennings video.” Based on that shared vision they came together to become The Far West.
Though it’s been a couple of years since I first heard of them and heard their music, I will say that their albums continue to get better with each subsequent listen. What they first showed me on stage may not translate directly to their studio recordings, but that makes the latter no less worthwhile. Furthermore, their de facto mission statement to create something that wasn’t available elsewhere is one that has been realized – I don’t know of anyone else making albums that sound like this nowadays.
I’m eagerly awaiting their next release. In the meantime, I suggest going to the listening platform of your choice, putting on your favorite pair of headphones, and giving this excellent debut a fair listen. You might find yourself liking something outside your comfort zone, as well.