Modern-day traditional country, plus lots more, from New Mexico’s E Christina Herr and Wild Frontier. The band combine many different parts of the wide range of roots genres, taking elements of what they label ‘frontier Americana’, country, folk and creating something they call ‘Western Gothic’. This nomenclature does make sense when you listen to the record, their latest, and is not such an oblique term as it might at first appear.
Hailing from NM’s Rio Grande area, the band’s music looks both east and west, and varies in tone from soft acoustics to rock-driven full-band arrangements. With vocals and guitars from E. Christina herself, bass and vocals from Laura Leach, twang and vocals from Martin Rowell, and drums courtesy of Arne Bey, the band provide considered and energetic backup for E. Christina’s voice.
The album begins with a wistful, almost folky feel in the intro of Headin For A Wreck, which, it turns out is a great, undiscovered country song as well. With slightly delicate vocals and solid harmonies, this is an interesting jumping off point for the record. The Springsteen song State Trooper is given a new treatment, with a slightly rocky feel (touching points would be U2, or Fleetwood Mac). The track builds nicely, with an arrangement that gives you a feel for the band and the album as a whole – serious, with no messing around when it comes to playing and creating a vibe.
Bluebirds is very different, with a soft, relaxed feel to it. The song, which was a Best Country nominee at the New Mexico Music Awards, is a beguiling tale, backed with steel guitar, with a message in its lyrics. The title track has a rhythmic tune to it, spinning a vivid, believable tale of a character in search of ‘a place to rest, a place to hide’, with a dream-like quality to it. Townes, meanwhile, rightly named Best Americana track by the New Mexico Music Awards, wraps you, protects you in its tribute to a great singer, a great wanderer and a great man. The song captures a story, imagining what might have been for TVZ, in a tale full of feeling and emotion.
Overall, the album does have deficiencies (it may be just me, but the vocals seem a little ill at ease in the mix occasionally), but is carried by strong themes and great music. Little Blue House sees traditional country vie with Byrds-esque psychedelia in parts to create an interesting blend – that phrase sums up the album – and is followed be the swinging, New Mexico feel of Sparks Fly. This one is a highlight, and really makes you want to swing and sway.
Themes on Americana Motel vary from drinking (Look For Me, a truly touching and affecting song, which makes you want to slow dance the night away), to the road (Matchbooks). The slow, building Follow Your Heart links back thematically to Headin For A Wreck, spinning a yarn of the heart leading you through life and providing direction. The album ends with Who Loves You, with its punk/new wave feel – (cf. Blondie, or the Pixies), which has a driving, rocking feel , it provides an refreshing, different end to the record.
Americana Motel is an album of contrasts, but is rewarding on a number of levels. The songs are strong, the band is hot, and the delivery is entertaining. Whilst not a brilliant work, it does make strides for traditional Americana, or Western Gothic. 4 out of 5.