From a '50s-era Nashville spin on country music lush with strings and crooning cowpokes, there emerged a music charged by the Dust Bowl diaspora, informed by poverty, displacement and a post-bomb restlessness. In juke joints of the mid-century Southwest, a sound emerged that was far more open, a twang professing separation and longing, distance, the omnipresent horizon and a subconscious inability to escape it. It is the sound of airplane graveyards, highways breathing and of counting boxcars - all suggesting departure. Sleepy Horses leader and Lubbock, TX, native Nic Goodson was raised on the sounds of classic country-western, playing guitar and singing at family reunions. “The Red River Boys were my great uncles; each of them played a different instrument. My great uncle Marshall Ferguson was a true badass," he says. "He played guitar and sang, my uncle Lloyd was the best country fiddle player I’ve seen in my life; he has done a million sessions in his lifetime. The band recorded back in the '40s and '30s and charted a number one hit with 'Fraulein.' They toured everywhere and played the Opry...” In his teens and early twenties, Goodson took up with cow-punk acts The Stuck Ups, Desorden and The Drowning Creek Boys, later touring the states with Heath Tolleson - now, too, an Athens native with his band Last Picture Show, in which Goodson also plays - and his Orange County Band before returning to Lubbock to study music geography at Texas Tech. “My main focus was the music of West Texas and the way it can evoke the landscape," says Goodson. "I studied the old jug bands, radio stations, the day Elvis came to town, everything. I figured out how those guys were putting West Texas into the music, and now I try to do the same.” A listen confirms his efforts. “Lubbock Love Song” sends up a confluence of Southwestern staples: a pensive, spacious, reverb-drenched guitar ostinato leads into a mariachi-fueled waltz, all rooted in minor chords pulled straight out of a corrido. Handclaps and, later, pure Telecaster clean figures in a guitar solo that speaks as much to Buck Owens as it does a Laredo street bard. “I think we’re deeply rooted in West Texas music," says Goodson, "the new 'desert' country movement, but I really think we’re headed in our own direction, trying to fuse shoegaze and country together to make atmospheric twang.” Goodson’s myriad talents sidestep the murk of era-based conclusiveness, though, and forego any particular one style for a bouquet of many. Though an adept songwriter and lyricist, his strengths lay in his arrangements and guitar work, particularly the latter. In coarse, decaying layers, Goodson’s sound is a rain of sparks sweeping over thirsty prairie. Not too shy to name an influence, Goodson calls praise to Buddy Holly, Don Rich, The Edge, Johnny Cash, Neil Young and Kevin Shields. “Hell, there’s so much more than that," he says. "I just love old country and I love atmospheric guitar - anything that twangs or echoes.” While at Texas Tech, Goodson teamed up with Amanda Shires and Colt Miller of Thriftstore Cowboys to record the first Sleepy Horses EP, then met and married future Sleepy Horses bassist Brandi Goodson before moving to Athens in early 2005. “Lubbock was a music town with a heritage that just goes back forever," he says. First playing solo, Goodson was later joined by wife Brandi on bass and Jason Peckham on drums, eventually adding Kyle Harris on rhythm guitar and Matt Stoessel at pedal steel. Peckham traded out in early 2006 with Jim Wilson of Mother Jackson, thus cementing the current Sleepy Horses line-up - and a formidable line-up it is. Harris’ rhythmic strumming is indistinguishable from the heritage it sprang from, sounding exactly the way it would have 100 years ago in a border bar. Wilson’s notoriously buoyant percussive style has the band running saddle-height off the ground, while bassist Brandi sticks the beat right where hooves smack soil at full gallop. Stoessel, an everyman of pedal steel, conspires with Goodson’s guitar, arcing overhead like sheets of lightning. At full bore, Sleepy Horses gives you no time to think, but eases you into a head-bobbing state, much like the soft-build-soft-loud formula of instrumental rock icons Mogwai or Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Sleepy Horses is a song band, though, and Goodson handles the topics of isolation and longing with niche-core savoir fare. “Don’t cry / the radio is with you / out in the desert tonight,” he pleads in shaking paper tones on “Sam and Galen,” with Brandi rounding out his phrasing with soft, understated harmonies. Not content to simply rock, Sleepy Horses also speaks the plaintive language of being trapped in our fragile bodies. “I want to make music honestly," says Goodson. "I don’t believe in hype. I believe that music is my trade, and hype can’t make you a craftsman.” In another era, there sits a post-apocalyptic junk shop, and behind the counter Goodson’s scarecrow frame haunts a rack of knobs, dials and strings, broadcasting the emotional moment of being, as Goodson sings, somewhere, out West, lonesome for you. ---(Coy King, Flagpole Magazine)
Album Review: Chris Hassiotis, Flagpole Magazine
In his spaghetti westerns, Italian director Sergio Leone presented larger-than-life takes on the American West, pushing stories of heroes, anti-heroes, sin and redemption to legendary levels. He created a world that played to the preconceptions of his modern European audiences, both reinforcing and elevating the mythology of the West. Since moving to Athens in 2005, the band Sleepy Horses has worked a similar vein, delivering sweeping desert soundscapes and conjuring images of baked earth, big skies and bigger stories.
Somewhere Out West, Lonesome For You is the debut studio full-length, and it proves that quality shines through: musicians can move to town (as guitar- and bass-playing vocalists Nic and Brandi Goodson did), enlist a talented local crew (as they did with guitarist Kyle Harris, steel player Matt Stoessel, drummer Jason Peckham on the album and now drummer Jim Wilson for the live shows) and make all the right friends (Is there a night that Nic Goodson isn't outside of Flicker or the 40 Watt?), but if the songs weren't quality then it all wouldn't add up. Luckily they are, luckily it does.
"Lubbock Love Song" opens the album with a spirited West Texas jolt, a Laredo street band number laced with handclaps, and through strong tracks like "Last Straw," "Makes No Sense" and "Hearts Are Breaking," the band explores the possibilities of guitar reverb and dusty, desert Telecaster.
Brandi Goodson takes on lead vocal duties on "Hearts Are Breaking," and her plainspoken phrasing suits the song, and the band, well. There's a slight Texas twang and a Southern curve to her vowels, but the accentuation's never over the top, and the slight flatness contrasts the steel guitar and strings well.
The more pensive "Sam and Galen," like "Lubbock Love Song" before it, takes a laid-back and romantic approach; fans of country-pop fusers Calexico should find much to like, although Sleepy Horses don't share that band's overt fascination with the pep of mariachi horns - other influences include Buck Owens, Neil Young and other standard touchstones.
If Somewhere Out West, Lonesome For You has a fault, it's that the album can sound a little too straightforward. It could take more risks and afford to be a little weirder. Closer "Geography" coming in at nearly 11 minutes, hints at some of the more adventurous sounds of the band's live performances, delving more into sprawling feedback and atmospheric layers.
It's a small complaint, though, for this very good album, and at the CD release show this week, the Horses will have a full string section with them, so it's not like the band isn't moving forward. In translating for a Georgia audience, Sleepy Horses recall the stories and sounds of their West Texas home while making sure the stories are pulled out of the realm of myth; they're still being written.