Bourbon Cowboys, A Taste for Whiskey (Independent)

This here’s a tale of two country albums. Gill Landry’s new record is a walk on the wild side, while the Bourbon Cowboys offer a more mainstream, rocking country show. Don’t expect too much frontier spirit from A Taste For Whiskey, but do expect a foot-stomping show. It’s a lively, fun album that possesses spunk if not a distinctive sound.

But then, that’s what the name Bourbon Cowboys seems to promise: faithful country music from New Orleans, a rare breed to be sure. Their shows are a staple for local country fans. Although a studio album can’t hope to capture the feel and excitement of a live performance, A Taste is an honest representation of the Cowboys’ music, and it will almost certainly find its way into your party mix.

Still, I cant help but be left a little unsatisfied by the conservative approach taken in their songwriting, mainly because it is provocative at times. The album’s title track, “A Taste For Whiskey,” has an unusual and interesting chorus with harmonized vocals—a nice touch and a rare effort in modern country. The New Orleans shuffle beat behind “Nickel & a Dime” is a little reserved, but it’s wonderful nevertheless. More creativity of that sort would have created more contrast between and within songs.

On the other hand, The Ballad of Lawless Soirez is a uniquely adventurous country album. It’s smart. It’s eccentric. It’s what you might get if the Decemberists and the Tijuana Brass joined forces and hit Nashville. Gill Landry seems equally adept at blues and tango, at home with both bona fide country and mariachi rock. Soirez is diverse and original, and the record’s subtitle—”High Sea Treachery, And a Brutal Bedroom Murder”—signifies just how much of a journey you can expect. However, Landry’s greatest talent has to be his ability to avoid cliché. There are no “easy” songs here, none of the three-chord malaise that affects country and folk in general.

Maybe Soirez isn’t country at all; I certainly can’t remember any country singers using distorted vocals like Landry does a la Modest Mouse in “Loneliness” and “Angolie.” There is something very hip and modern about this album despite its nostalgic feel, so the piano ballad “Desiree” could easily be a re-hashed Elliot Smith song, and “Mutiny” sounds like acoustic indie rock. It’s this unusual composition, rather than the strength of any particular song, that makes The Ballad of Lawless Soirez an unusually satisfying listen.