By: Forrest Cook
Local cow-punk heroes, Vandoliers have just released their new album, Forever, to (trail) blazing reviews. With all the press this thing has gotten so far, I’d be surprised if album sales didn’t get at least as big as the 10-gallon hats these former punk rock musicians have taken upon themselves to adorn on stage and during extra-curricular Vandoliers activities. It’s a wonderful album, although I was skeptical at first.
I have to admitI thought cow-punk was like when Gwen Stefani decided to get it on with Blake Shelton. A friend of mine even brought up an interesting anecdote regarding the seeming contradiction this genre implies, “Country punk, huh? What country?” Of course, maybe he’s never heard of The Supersuckers.
They appear gimmicky and hipster-ish, providing mainstream appeal to loads of potential gentrifiers among the ever-expanding eye of alt-country enthusiasts. However, that particular stigma starts and ends with the band’s boundless display of musicianship, and so I’ll say this, in the highest praise I can muster, (begrudgingly, since I really just wanted to crack jokes on these almost famous local knuckleheads, and perhaps controversially as well since swing revival is often viewed as the scourge on the wonderment of 90’s ska and punk rock) Vandoliers are to (country) punk what Squirrel Nut Zippers are to (jazz) punk – and I’m insane about the Squirrel Nut Zippers. Damned if I didn’t just find myself tattooed-ankles-deep in a literary faux pas (cow pie). I guess I’m pretty crazy about (the) Vandoliers too.
They are a band that spurred forward after the dissolvement of lead singer/songwriter Josh Fleming’s well-regarded other band, The Phuss, which if you missed, you missed I guess. These guys are pretty gung-ho on that VFFV shizzz, espied in the title of their third album to date, Forever. They are a band who Rolling Stone Magazine has praised as having learned “to play the long game” — going back to that generalized attraction — and I honestly get it with this release.
Some of my favorite moments on the album include: “Miles and Miles”, with its relatable optimism, willful violin (Travis Curry), and skilled guitar-playing of Dustin Fleming, riddled with twangy-country, near surf-side progressions which could easily find their home in any Quentin Tarrantino movie. Guyton Danders’ high-tailing snare drumming on the anthemic Texas-blooded ballad, “Troublemaker” and lyrics like, “loose cannon, instigator…[with] gasoline and a zippo lighter” strike a strong personal resonance with me in my own old crusty, fubar mental-sphere. This is also the song where you get your first glimpse at trumpeteer, Cory Graves, (otherwise playing keys) who does the job of elating the highly affluent musical prowess – that defines the core of Vandoliers’ music – with a tone of traditionality. It’s this influence that makes the band as much Piñata Protest as Meat Puppets or Supersuckers.
The trumpets then bring me to “Sixteen Years” – which along with “Bottom Dollar Boy”, Vandoliers’ bass player, Mark “Crossroads” Moncrief, has time to shine and inlays a few formative movements of significance. This song is my favorite on the album, so please give it a listen and let me know if you like it too.
“Sixteen Years” is followed by what in my opinion is the weakest song off Forever, “Shoshone Rose”, although I can appreciate its inclusion on the record as a change in texture – albeit not a very subtle one. “Shoshone Rose” reminds me, personally, of a southern rock style rendition of “Alice’s Restaurant”. If that sounds like something you’d be into, then this song is definitely for you.
On “Cigarettes in the Rain” Josh lets his voice howl through temporal drumming, dim lighting and a smoky haze – and I love it! (Keep singing Josh!) – abounding again in the chorus of fiddles, and guitar, and an omnipresent rhythm acting as the right and left hand to the growl-y hard pragmatism incorporeal in every single song on the album, and if that doesn’t scream “COUNTRY PUNK,” then I don’t know what does.
Forever is a great album which I highly recommend for inclusion on your first or second favorite Spotify playlist. They are a safe punk band to listen to around your mother in law, (maybe it’s just southern hospitality, but I happen to think my own mother in law is a charming lady) just be weary… at least one of the members may come fumbling in and wreck havoc in the sink, but I’ll save that story for another occasion.