ROUTES & BRANCHES
featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
June 17, 2018
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust
Since leaving radio for the profitable land of blogging, I have largely ceased my active search and support for Colorado music. Which doesn't mean I won't play a local artist when merited. It's just that chances are pretty slim that I'll drive to Durango to pick up a home-burned CD from some new writer. Call me lazy. Nevertheless, I do recall fondly certain discoveries, from Esme Patterson and Paper Bird to Kristina Murray (whose next record will be a game changer, mark my words).
I was also privileged to have a front row seat as square state artists like Nathaniel Rateliff floated onto the nation's popular radar. And I recall remarking how the young man fronting You Me & Apollo might do the same someday. Matter of fact, Rateliff shared a notable "writers in the round" broadcast with Brent Cowles at one point.
A couple years after the dissolution of his band, Brent Cowles has emerged with his debut full-length record, How to Be Okay Alone (Dine Alone). Like Rateliff, Cowles bears a unique voice, shot through with shades of soul. But Cowles is no revivalist. Instead, he works roughly in the shadow world of "indie-folk" (you thought americana was a difficult term to define). The Spotify playlist he presents as inspiration is a rubbery thing stretching from Jeff Buckley and JC Brooks to Nico and John Lennon.
Cowles' voice is a throaty thing, most closely resembling Brett Dennen or Passenger's Michael Rosenberg, but with far more earthiness than either. While the bulk of How to Be Okay Alone is more upbeat, that unique vocal gift can best be heard on quieter tracks like the aptly named "Velvet Soul" : How many times can a man catch fire / And still believe in a higher power. Cowles favors an electric guitar, even on this sweetly swaying r&b set which finds him exploring some jazz colors. The desolate acoustic title cut explores his higher register and reveals some of the delicious grain in the singer's delivery. It was Cowles' unique voice that caught my attention in his You Me & Apollo days, and it's what's lifted him beyond the local music fray as a solo artist.
How to Be Okay Alone also showcases Brent Cowles' evolution as a writer and a constructor of songs. "Tequila Train" features the singer-songwriter in full band mode, patiently growing the song from bouncy bass and drum to a soaring keyboard line and soul satisfying backing vocals. "Keep Moving" is propelled by a driving gospel groove. These songs benefit from generous arrangements, presenting Cowles as a frontman as opposed to just another lonely guy strumming away at his acoustic guitar.
"The Fold" may stick in those creases of your brain for quite awhile after a couple listens. It's one of the year's more powerful anthems with a good old fashioned guitar solo and a fist-pumping chorus perfect for making an impression at Summer festivals. In a just musical landscape, it would be the wedge that allows Brent Cowles to work his way onto the national stage. Until that point, it's enough that it rewards earlier fans who recognized his talent in those early days when he was just another voice in a crowded Colorado music scene. World, meet Brent Cowles.
- John Moreland, "Slow Down Easy" Big Bad Luv (4AD, 17)
- Gaslight Anthem, "Our Father's Sons" 59 Sound Sessions (SideOneDummy, 18) D
- Jesse Dayton, "May Have to Do It" The Outsider (Blue Elan, 18)
- T Hardy Morris, "When the Record Skips" Dude the Obscure (Normaltown, 18)
- Dexateens, "Cardboard Hearts" Dexateens (Estrus, 04)
- Eli Paperboy Reed, "Name Calling" Meets High & Mighty Brass Band (YepRoc, 18) D
- Erin Rae, "Mississippi Queen" Putting on Airs (Single Lock, 18)
^ Brent Cowles, "Tequila Train" How to Be Okay Alone (Dine Alone, 18)
- Buck Meek, "Fool Me" Buck Meek (Keeled Scales, 18)
- M Ward, "Motorcycle Ride" What a Wonderful Industry (MWard, 18)
- Mapache, "Lonesome LA Cowboy" Lonesome LA Cowboy (Genuine Souvenirs, 18) D
- Cody Canada & Departed, "Daughter of the Devil" Three (Underground Sound, 18)
- Margo Price, "Tennessee Song" Midwest Farmer's Daughter (Third Man, 16)
- Jason Isbell, "Whisper" Sirens of the Ditch: Deluxe Edition (New West, 18)
- Shooter Jennings, "Rhinestone Eyes" Shooter (Elektra, 18)
- Jason Eady, "Calaveras County" I Travel On (Old Guitar, 18) D
- Sons of Bill, "Firebird 85" Oh God Ma'am (Gray Fox, 18)
- Crooked Fingers, "Sweet Marie" Red Devil Dawn (Merge, 03)
- Devil Makes Three, "Paint My Face" Chains Are Broken (New West, 18)
- Lucero, "Long Way Back Home" Among Ghosts (Liberty + Lament, 18)
- Will Johnson, "Color of a Lonely Heart is Blue" Desperate Times: Songs of the Old 97s (Neely, 16)
- Cody Jinks, "Must Be the Whiskey" Lifers (Rounder, 18) D
- Nude Party, "Water On Mars" Nude Party (New West, 18)
- Ryan Culwell, "Can You Hear Me" Last American (Culwell, 18) D
- Tallest Man on Earth, "Forever is a Very Long Time" single (Rivers/Birds, 18) D
- Nathan Salsburg, "Impossible Air" Third (No Quarter, 18)
- Jess Williamson, "Mama Proud" Cosmic Wink (Mexican Summer, 18)
- Cordovas, "This Town's a Drag" That Santa Fe Channel (ATO, 18) D
- Old Crow Medicine Show, "Child of the Mississippi" Volunteer (Sony, 18)
- Matt Haeck, "Lucky Cigarette" Late Bloomer (Haeck, 16)