Can you call it a supergroup if the principal parties aren’t widely known coast to coast? You can if it’s Western Centuries. Any group with Cahalen Morrison in it should be considered a supergroup. You may be unaware of the name, but in the Pacific Northwest you will be hard pressed to find another honky tonker as revered in country music circles as Cahalen. Add to that Ethan Lawton who is known for his earlier work in Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers and a distinct Cajun cadence he brings to his original songs, and singer/songwriter Jim Miller who became known through his work with Donna the Buffalo, and the Western Centuries helping of talent appears to have been apportioned unfairly in the band’s favor.
None of this accounts for chemistry and appeal though. Field a basketball team of superstars who never want to pass the ball, and you’re liable to get bounced in the early exhibitions. It takes a selflessness to even conceive a group like this and get it off the ground, and a willingness on everyone’s part to give themselves to the expressions of others and share of their time to make it work. That lack of ego is what allows Western Centuries to work so well.
With all due respect to the band’s first record from 2016 The Weight of the World, it felt less like a true collaboration between three respective songwriters—where the songs and music was allowed to properly gel until it formed a cohesive sound no matter who was singing or wrote the tune—and more like three separate guys selecting a few songs from their respective repertoires, and playing them together for their own enjoyment. No qualms could be levied against any specific song. In fact in 2016, some considered Western Centuries their favorite of the year. But as an album, it felt like more account for chemistry could result in a sum greater than their particular parts.
That’s exactly the case for Songs From The Deluge. Instead of feeling like the conventional supergroup with each primary singer/songwriter taking their turn, it’s all for one, and one for all, culminating in a unified sound and approach. Western Centuries is country to the core, with loads of pedal steel from Leo Grassl laid on thick. But it also has a cool, laid-back and smooth feeling, like a more countrified version of The Band. The music of Western Centuries is sweaty and distinct, with its true honky tonk textures smoothly woven in with Acadian and Cajun rhythms, and just enough piano, organ, fiddle, and accordion to texturize it just right.
Songs From The Deluge gets right what so many throwback country outfits get wrong. In their rush to prove how country they are, so many artists and bands fail to imprint each song with a distinct dialect. With Western Centuries, each song tells a story, and each story comes from a place, and those places are represented with how the music is written and sung, and with what instrumentation and rhythms are selected, until this record acts not just as an enjoyable listen, but like a travelogue through locations and eras overlooked and forgotten in the modern mindset, but ripe for revival, full of vitality in their expressions, and relevant as ever in the ears and hearts of listeners if just given a chance.
This is all helped along by producer and well-known Cajun fiddle player Joel Savoy, who also instills Songs From The Deluge with another kick of Louisiana herbs and spices. You want you’re hardcore country songs? Well you get them with Cahalen Morrison’s clever and biting “Earthy Justice,” and Ethan Lawton’s “Own Private Honky Tonk.” But you also have the Fats-style boogie woogie of “How Many More Miles to Babylon,” or Jim Miller’s “Rocks and Flame” that you could swear is a lost recording from Music From Big Pink.
Sometimes it’s the smallest of textures that pricks the grand awakening of memory and nostalgia in music, and transforms mere words and musical notes into an immersive experience. This is where musicians, songwriters, and producers become like alchemists, and the experience and talent assembled in Western Centuries has resulted in some incredible musical apothecary magic. Songs From The Deluge is an album to drown in, to let pull you under to a time and place in the Louisiana bottomlands where the accents are thick, the characters one of a kind, the food and music is incredible, and you couldn’t dream of pulling yourself away to suffer once again in the mundane swale of the present.
1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)
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