Sunday, May 1, 2016

coWpilot – coWpilot | Album Review

coWpilot – coWpilot

Self Release

9 tracks / 30:44

I review a lot of blues CDs, and it was nice to get something a little different to listen to this time, and coWpilot certainly delivered. Their eponymous debut album is a dose of quirky country (among other things) that is nothing like the formulaic pabulum that Nashville songwriters crank out like there is no tomorrow.

coWpilot has survived a long germination, with three members who have known each other for decades since they first met up on the central California coast. The lives and careers of Tee Fitch, Jack Williams, and Chris Barham took different directions, but fate smiled on them and they all eventually ended up in the Lone Star State. About ten years ago they sort of picked up where they left off, found themselves a drummer (Andy Alsup) and another guitarist (Jimmy Buck), and started playing club and corporate gigs again. Hallmarks of their live shows were their curious mashups (such as “Folsom Prison Wizard”), and the welcome conversion of terrible pop tunes to country (“These Boots Are Made For Walkin’”).

Fast forwarding to today, these folks needed a demo CD that they could use to procure more of these precious gigs, so they hit the studio to lay down some quick and dirty tracks. Things got out of hand, and they put together nine original tunes that Tee had written, and spent more time in the studio than they ever thought possible. Jimmy Buck acted as executive producer, and enlisted Bruce Faulconer to do the studio magic at Dallas’ Cake Mix Recording, where much of the album was cut (the remainder of the guitars and vocals were recorded at Hezoree Sound Studios in Kyle, Texas).

As far as their line-up goes, for this project Tee played the guitar and was in charge of the lead vocals, Jack was bassman, Chris played lead guitar and all manner of stringed instruments, Jimmy played the guitar, and Andy was stuck behind the drum kit. Jack, Chris, and Jimmy also added backing vocals. It should also be mentioned that their friend and ace in the hole, Chuck Ward (Bellamy Brothers, and a whole lot more), took care of the keyboard parts. It is good to have friends in high places!

Their half-hour set kicks off with “Texas Raindrops” with a Johnny Cash intro and bass that is slightly fatter than what you would have heard back in the day. Fitch has a pleasant tenor voice, and the catchy chorus features vocal harmonies that are destined to get stuck in your head. Barham throws down a tidy guitar solo with deft finger work, but he does not go overboard. And that is sort of the theme of this album: it is all about the songs so there are no epic solos or musical breaks for the listener to deal with.

This is followed up by one of the standout tracks from coWpilot, “Go Big Train.” Musically, this song is more complex, with layers of acoustics guitars, banjo and pedal steel. Though it starts out as a mid-tempo country ballad with lovely melodies, the chorus is more aggressive and the transitions pique the listener’s interest. This is a fun contrast to the next track, “White Trash Girls,” an up-tempo rhythm and blues love story (sort of) with tasty keyboards provided by Mr. Ward.

“She’s Changed Her Mind Again” features piano from Chuck, and comes off as more of a plaintive modern country tune. This track highlights the backline of Williams and Alsup, who are perfectly in sync yet still squeeze a few tasty fills in here and there. The group also steps into pop-rock on “Happy Going Nowhere,” with vocal harmonies galore and more guitar layers than you can shake a stick at. This is track is also a standout thanks to Fitch’s crooning and his lyrics that are easy to relate to.

Before things end, coWpilot flirts with easy-going California country on “The Opposite of Here,” and country rock with “About Elektra,” which has a gloriously distorted guitar break. Then, before you know it, the set draws to a close with “Until Then,” an example of roadhouse country at its finest, complete with honky-tonk piano and pedal steel.

By the way, there is also a hidden track, but you are not going to hear about it from me. You will have to go find it for yourself…

coWpilot’s debut album is a strong effort, with well-written songs that are professionally played and recorded with care. This kind of Americana music has good legs, and hopefully the guys will make it back into the studio to record their sophomore effort soon. coWpilot will be released on May 7, 2015 and will be available for purchase through the usual digital outlets (iTunes, Pandora, Spotify, CD baby, Amazon, Shazam, etc.), and surely it will be possible to pick up a physical copy at one of their upcoming shows. According to the band, “an extensive tour of Texas is in the works,” so follow them on Facebook to keep up to date on their activities!

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