Cowpuncher cooks up tasty sonic soup
Mike Bell, Calgary Herald
Published: Wednesday, October 05, 2011
That line of which Johnny sang, Matt Olah knows it and walks it well.No, the Calgary musician wouldn’t dare compare himself to the Man in Black, but sitting on the Ship & Anchor patio with the frontman for local band Cowpuncher you get the sense they’re something of kindred spirits, he and the late, great Cash.
That’s especially true musically, where that thin border between country and rock is something both patrol, dipping in and out of each territory with amnesty, mingling with the locals, speaking their language and fitting right in.
For Olah and his band of outlaws, it’s a pretty great place to exist.
“We do kind of walk that line,” Olah says. “We had someone ask us to do their wedding ceremony acoustically, and I thought it was the worst idea I’d ever heard. But it ended up being awesome. We totally can pull off an acoustic, bluegrass banjo thing, but we can also pull off a greasy rock ’n’ roll show at the Distillery or Broken City.
“And we own it on either side. So it’s a pretty interesting line to walk.”
Thursday night, Cowpuncher will make another claim to that perimeter by releasing their new album Call Me When You’re Single with a show at the Republik.
It’s the band’s first since its 2010 release, The Brown Album, and it’s an easy, honest, exceptional statement that goes down as smooth as if it were swigged straight from the still.
On a musical level, it shows the artistic growth and stylistic evolution of the band, one that Olah and Co. have hard-earned through gigging relentlessly in the city’s clubs and around the rest of the prairies. And it’s a definitive and distinct sound they’ve rustled up — informed by their original twangier beginnings but never letting the dust settle as it honky-tonks, rockabillys, bluegrasses and lazily rocks.
“It’s like a soup,” Olah says. “The base is country but we put in a lot more ingredients.”
It also never falls into the land of kitsch and coy where many other country rock acts find themselves floundering and where even the band name might even suggest, with lead songwriter and lyricist Olah sounding like other contemporary C&W-influenced troubadours such as Bobby Bare Jr. and Jeff Tweedy. From the gutty Light That Shines, which features the Cowpuncher “male choir” and lines such as “I’m gonna pick you up/When you hit the ground” to the sad and lonesome Hole In My Heart, it’s unabashedly in touch with and successfully reaching out from its emotional depths.
“It’s pretty honest and earnest,” he agrees. “I don’t know if it’s too popular to do these days, but it is, we just wear our hearts on our sleeves and lay it out.”
Helping with that honesty is the sonic air of the disc, which was recorded live off-the-floor in The Blackbird Cafe, an old church in Coleman, AB. The band camped out and laid down the songs — which they’d spent the previous four months rehearsing and working into shape —during a two-week period last January and in the throes of an Alberta winter.
It all works together for something that Olah is understandably proud of, but, oddly, already wanting to move on from for a number of reasons. The first being that the band dynamic has already changed, with the band’s pedal steel player, Shawn Canning, already having moved on.
And there’s also the fact that, quite possibly, the sound could be growing a little more, perhaps taking trips deeper into that rockier region and spending less time on that line. Who knows, thanks to a little more encouragement and acknowledgment from Calgary’s hard rock community, including the Calgary Beer Core, who named Cowpuncher the best new band at its recent awards ceremony, perhaps Olah could be convinced to stop walking and maybe make a leap.
“We just keep falling further down the rock ’n’ roll rabbit hole,” he says.