Album Review – Western Centuries – “Call The Captain”

Representing the small but mighty country music scene of the Seattle region and the Pacific Northwest, Western Centuries is one of the most well-beloved and well-regarded bands of the region, with a listenership that extends well beyond the rainy West Coast from their reputation for releasing excellent country music songs and albums that have helped set the pace for honky tonk for the last few years.

With the title of their new album Call The Captain calling attention to how they’re a band with no real frontman, Western Centuries features Cahalen Morrison, who has quite a following all his own from his various country projects as both a frontman and collaborator, Ethan Lawton who is known for his earlier work in Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers, and Jim Miller who became known through his efforts with Donna the Buffalo. Swapping time on respective instruments and getting their fair share of opportunities at center stage singing their self-penned songs, Western Centuries is more a country music songwriting commune than a conventional country band.

These boys have always had a bit of a feel that reminds you of The Band, built in part from the timbre of the voices of both Ethan Lawton and Jim Miller, and how they draw upon Cajun and Arcadian traditions. Call The Captain seems to embrace this characteristic even more than previous works, with songs like “Heart Broke Syndrome” and “The Sentinel” feeling like they could be lost tracks of Music from Big Pink. Where their last record Songs From The Deluge was a strong and dedicated move towards traditional honky tonk, this one gives you a bit more variety and an Americana vibe, while still serving the traditional country listener.

Call The Captain also gives you some really great songs, no matter what you want to call them. The funky country groove of “Lifeblood Sold” will have your loins twitching and you singing along. “No Cure” is so damn sumptuous from the mood and the near perfect arrangement and approach, you may overlook that it’s supposed to be a sad song. And if you can’t get your feet shuffling to the Fais Do-Do charm of “Sarah and Charlie,” get tested for the Coronavirus.

These guys are just the masters of hitting a groove and filling you heart with the warm joy of music in a way that feels so natural and effortless. They don’t try to get too cute or make some striking creative expression. This is about mining tried and true elements of roots music and interpreting them in new, original ways. And though this record’s variety might present a challenge for some, it’s still plenty rootsy with lots of steel guitar from Thomas Bryan Eaton, and fiddle from Oliver Bates Craven formerly of the Stray Birds. So pick and choose if you must, but make sure you rummage through the whole thing.

A few of Call The Captain‘s songs take a more somber, soulful tone, specifically some of the Cahalen Morrison contributions like “Barcelona Lighthouse,” and the final song of the record, “Before The Final Bell.” These songs may not grab you immediately like the others, or may present roadblocks for the rednecks out there. You’re also a bit surprised by the softly religious tone that some of the songs take, but this builds into one of the record’s themes of looking for leadership and a sense of fairness and truth in a time when these things have never been harder to find. “Space Force” featuring the cosmic cowboy himself Jim Lauderdale is a little silly, but many will find it entertaining.

If you were looking for more of a straightforward traditional country record, Western Centuries already gave that to you in their last record Songs From The Deluge, and this album may lack some of the overall consistency of the last one. But when these guys find the perfect hook, melody, and groove, there are few if any that are better at conveying sheer joy that only authentic roots music can afford. Western Centuries not only remains one of the crown jewels of the Pacific Northwest, but one of the finest contributors to all of independent country music.

1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)

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