L.A.'s singing cowboys and sistagirls ride the tide of roots revival
This is the year when your scribing cowgirl returns wholly to the barn — or at least the fabled Cabin-in-the-Ppines where folks used to pick, grin, and get up to no good throughout my father's youth in southwest Georgia. And sho'nuff the Whispering Pines' fine, self-released debut, Family Tree (self-released), will be in tow alongside the potbelly stove, vintage Akan gold weights, and patchwork spreads courtesy of my late great-aunt, the hedonistic quilter Kate.
Family Tree served as fitting accompaniment not just to holiday doldrums but also the tail end of sonic voting season — when the results of the Nashville Scene's ninth annual Country Music Critics Poll, which I contributed to, heralded the genre's likely future. While I don't disagree with anointing Brad Paisley and Miranda Lambert for a soon-come twang Mount Rushmore, and would give my right pinky toe to cut a record with the great outlaw heir Jamey Johnson, the psychedelicized wing of cowboy music needs more recognition as its revival reaches its maturity. And it seems we ought not to wait a year or more to claim what's worthy. So here's stepping out in Topanga dirt at the ghost site of the ole Corral on behalf of the Whispering Pines' efforts.
Family Tree, reaching back to twang's glorious midcentury of pioneering fusions to fetch sounds for envisioning the near-future, is surely as much of an aesthetic atlas for country's current progression as Brother Johnson's stunning commingled pathos and mirth on "Mowin' Down the Roses" or "Women." Of course, the long-haired and denim-clad quintet of Brian Filosa (bass, vocals), Joe Bourdet (guitar, vocals), Dave Baine (keys, guitar, vocals), Joe Zabielski (drums, percussion), and David Burden (harmonica, percussion, vocals) abide and create in a vastly different space than Music Row or the plains and Rust Belt enclaves of Midwestern alt-country. This is reflected in the sunny clarity of their sound and sometimes mellower lyrical concerns. Silver Lake's Whispering Pines is part of a loose, freewheeling confederacy of young SoCal-based solo artists and groups who purvey what some used to call "wooden music" and my friend Zach a.k.a. DJ Turquoise Wisdom has taken to terming "bootcut."
This movement has bubbled under during recent years, yet has seemed to enjoy quite a spike recently. Over the last 18 months, several colleagues released histories of Laurel Canyon; maxi dresses (or "town gowns") were deemed chic in downtown Manhattan and Los Angeles' Echo Park; and Kamara Thomas' Honky Tonk Happy Hour at assorted New York City venues reminded audiences that the East Coast has a rich stake in cosmic country, too. Likewise, Hair's ballyhooed Broadway run and Taking Woodstock reacquainted the fickle masses with festivals and freaky-deak; Neil Young dropped volume one of his storied Archives; SoHo sported a vintage store actually called Laurel Canyon, replete with embroidered western shirts, perfectly-scuffed boots, and Gunne Sax; my friend Henry Diltz' iconic images of CSN and their friends crowned a blockbuster exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum; and Levon Helm just won a Grammy for Electric Dirt (Dirt Farmer Music/Vanguard Records). This past month, New Jersey's Wiser Time put out their strongest evidence of a northeastern-minted "Southern rock," Beggars and Thieves (Wiser Time). A slate of Essra Mohawk reissues is in the wings.