The Goat Roper Rodeo Band : Tall Grass18.03.2019 : Old Pup Records
I have roamed about North Wales and beyond to see The Goat Roper Rodeo Band play at venues that have included a teepee at the edge of a beach on Anglesey, a club behind a record shop in Liverpool, a room tacked onto the side of a brewery and a university town café.
On any stage the band offer a roller coaster frenzy of high octane country blues, punctuated by quieter, soulful moments.
They have toured all over the UK and into Europe, honing their musical charisma further with each date, always delivering a night of great entertainment wherever they roll up; but it was never exactly clear where they were headed long term. Tall Grass removes that doubt, and replaces it with an absolute certainty.
This new record marks out a distinctive territory.
The band's last, and second, album, Cosmic Country Blue, was full of life and exuberance, without quite capturing the band's live vitality. This time round both that trademark joie de vivre and a more nuanced side of their work are comprehensively represented; Tall Grass is a mature set of songs - again produced by Romeo Stodart (The Magic Numbers), it has an extra dimension or depth compared to their past recordings. The reasons for this are readily identified; at first glance there are more complex arrangements coupled with an added sophistication in the songwriting, look closer and there is also a shift in the subtle dynamics of the band's musicianship.
There's an authentic rhythm and structure to the new LP too. Working on the album whenever they had free time in a hectic schedule, The Goat Ropers had amassed almost ninety songs and fragments to whittle down to the twelve tracks they have set on CD, and it gave them the flexibility to put together a remarkable release.
The band's lead guitarist, Jim Davies, feels that time constraints, leading to an episodic studio schedule, helped, "We tended to record the songs a few at a time, separated by several months, and it gave us space to consider what we were doing." Adding, "I think it flows better than the previous ones, there's more difference in it. We wanted slow, soft, fragile moments on the record, and rocking, kicking moments. There's been a natural progression in how we work, and with the number of songs we had, it was easier to scope out the landscape of it."
The trio's usual two guitars (Sam Roberts adds rhythm to Jim Davies' lead), and upright bass (Tom Davies) and three part vocals - were augmented in the studio by the expressive organ playing of engineer, Dave Izumi, and pedal steel from Joe Harvey-Whyte - the latter coming on board after a spontaneous jam backstage at Glastonbury, making an important contribution, as Jim outlines, "He was amazing when he came down to record - creative with effects too - he makes it sound like there is more going on than there is!"
Tall Grass is, in contrast to Cosmic Country Blue, self-released (a debut for 'Old Pup Records') - "It gives us full control and independence", Jim explains. The album is split notionally into two sides. 'A' opens with the dark, rolling mood of Unwrap my Bones, before a run of three highlights: the swinging heft of Main Street, the rueful magnificence of Bright Lights & Deadbeats, and the live favourite High Heel Blues, which is given an electrifying studio reading. Side 'B' leads with The Pulse, an upbeat end-of-love song, and holds the sensitive Toss & Turn, and the written-for-a-festival-encore bar room swirl of Ask for Alice as standouts.
It all adds up to Tall Grass being something of significance. Listen, and listen again - The Goat Roper Rodeo Band have produced their first great album, and it is an uplifting and heartfelt trip through the dusty back roads of Americana.
THE GOAT ROPER RODEO BAND I Unwrap my Bones