Album Review - The Brooklyn Cowboys: Dodging Bullets
by Al Kunz
Essentially Americana is the latest label attached to what Gram Parsons called "Cosmic American Music," a combination of rock, country, and occasionally blues or folk. Although some contrarians disagree, it's tough to argue that Parsons is, if not the Grandfather of Americana, at least one of the most influential pioneers of the genre. The Brooklyn Cowboys make the most of co-founder Walter Egan's somewhat tenuous connections with Parsons. The fact that Emmylou Harris first sang with Parsons in Egan's Washington, D.C. kitchen is interesting and, in retrospect, was a crucial event in the development of Parsons' legacy, but says nothing about the music of the Brooklyn Cowboys or Walter Egan. More pertinent is that Egan co-wrote "Hearts on Fire," one of the best duets Gram and Emmylou recorded. He understood what Parsons was doing then and, with the Brooklyn Cowboys, is now doing his version of Cosmic American Music.
Egan followed Parsons and Harris west where he worked with Jackson Browne and other stalwarts of the L.A. music scene, recording several albums, his single "Magnet and Steel" even flirting with the top of the charts in the late '70s. Although he reunited and recorded three discs with the Malibooz (a surf-rock band from his high school days), Egan kept a lower profile through the '80s and early '90s before finally forming the Brooklyn Cowboys with drummer Fredro Perry in 1996.
Rounding out the Cowboys is a mix of veteran and up-and-coming, edge-of-Nashville session players. Amazing Rhythm Aces co-founder Jeff "Stick" Davis plays bass with Buddy Cage (New Riders of the Purple Sage) on pedal steel. Keyboards are manned by Michael Webb (Allison Moorer, Stacey Earle, Pinmonkey) when he's not picking the mandolin. Former Knoxvillian Brian Waldschlager and Egan play guitar and share vocal duties with Webb.
The opening track "I Was Wrong" makes clear the Cowboys' intent to cover the full spectrum of the country-rock hybrid, in this case a rock song that applies Parsons' musical ideas in the same way the Rolling Stones did. Although the Brooklyn Cowboys make no secret of Gram Parsons' musical influence, that's only part of the story. On just one track, "Waycross Stables," is Gram's imprint overwhelming, which is fitting since the song is an obvious tribute. And you might recall Parsons and Emmylou on "Someone You Can Live With," a duet with Joy Lynn White.
With the twin fiddles of Kenny Sears and Nashville session player Hoot Hester (Ray Price, John Conlee, and Ray Charles) on "Hey Juanica," the Cowboys rock side goes into remission. At times this tale of a couple making their getaway to a new life sounds like a '50s hoedown, but a few south-of-the-border rhythms tossed in keep it fresh. Hey Juanica, we're lost but we're found Let's greet the new day in some west Texas town And make like the sagebrush and cover some ground Hey Juanica we're partners in crime Lookin' for love but we'll take what we find Let's beat the new dawn down across the state line
It's tough to pick standout tracks on Dodging Bullets (if you like one odds are you'll like them all), but my current favorites are "Trick Ponies" and "My Heart's in Denial." The latter, subtitled "The 12 Step 2 Step," casts the recovery from a breakup in the same light as overcoming an addiction. Those with only minimal familiarity with Alcoholics Anonymous will easily pick up on the theme. Live and let live that's the way Bill prescribes it But you decided to put me on trial Leave and let live really better describes it And so this may take a while Right Now my heart's in denial In the rooms that once we shared, lonely misery No recovery from what you did to me If there is a higher power watching us below Why'd he let you go when I still loved you so?
"Trick Ponies" tells Brian Waldschlager's story, living on "the best mustard sandwiches a man ever had," doing what it takes to survive while waiting for the country music pendulum to swing back.
I gear that sucker towards 'The Three Doors Down'
To mingle with the regular guests
Parallel it facing uptown baby
But down here's where intriguing lights glow
Ernest Tubbs' in my eye, walkin' the floor in the sky
He's got a message that I already know he wants to tell me
Hey, is this the that other side
That some durn fool swore was bustin' open wide
I'm waiting for a dark horse to rise
Among the trick ponies of life, trick ponies of life
Trick Pony ain't the only Nashvilleans who're on a mission.