Travelling roads covered in the tall shadows of cedar trees. Campfire gatherings melting marshmallows in the aural glow of a pawn shop acoustic guitar. Images of a care-free country American road-trip, conjured up perfectly by No Coward Soul’s second album “The Boondox”.
Brad Schmauss, the band’s lead vocalist, wears his Alaskan origins proudly, bringing the satisfying sounds of Americana to his adopted London locale. While these landscapes hold a stark difference, “The Boondox” has clear, universal, appeal.
The opening track, “King of the World”, is a mostly jovial up-beat tune with sing-a-long harmonies and its dominant folk acoustic guitar. In the centre, the band switch, very quickly, to a 6/8 swing to lyrically showcase the protagonist’s past struggles. The Mood shifting here is incredibly effective and something the band do very well as we come to find throughout the album.
From the foot-stomping, “Jason’s Ridge” with it’s Cash/Carter vocal style, through to a more euphoric “Chasing the Ghost” and back to an upbeat “Cross the River, the band play with our emotions. “The Boondox” takes us through twists, quickly, and we are wondering what they have for us next.
“Cinco De Mayo” is a big shift to the melancholy and carries a similar feel, musically, to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. The sadness in this song is boosted thanks to the contrasting joy gifted to us in the preceding tracks. Have some tissues by your side.
“The Boondox” gives us so much to unpack in its short 33 minutes. The swampy “Slash and Burn” mixes with the peaceful “Wolves”, but it is perhaps the final track “Schwartzkopf’s Wings” that is most grabbing.
A head bobbling drum groove backs spoken word jazz poetry reminiscent of the very early works of Zappa’s Mothers of Invention. It is the biggest surprise on the album and how you take this piece, may very well depend on where your musical tastes lie. Regardless, the playing is superb.
No Coward Soul’s second album is an emotional journey. The ups and downs brought by the track-listing, the terrific playing and masterful vocal harmonies present a complex, yet thoroughly enjoyable, listening experience. It is fun and sad, dance-able, and deeply thought provoking. Each repeat play brings a new favourite song and an image of a place we would rather be.