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Western Centuries Western Centuries
Album: Weight Of The World
Label: Free Dirt
Tracks: 12

Western Centuries is one of those country bands that seems to have the best of so many worlds. It contains within its ranks three principal songwriters, each with a quite different style and "voice" and yet entirely complementary (now where've we heard that before?!): these being Cahalen Morrison (best known for his partnership with Eli West), Seattle native Ethan Lawton, and Jim Miller (veteran of Donna The Buffalo). It's paying the highest of compliments to say that their songs have the aura of country classics you feel you've always known but can't quite place, and this impression is accentuated by the uncanny "sound-like" quality of the lead vocals (meaning in the model yet without the tag of purely imitative).

Versatile instrumental backing from all concerned, with a core sound of acoustic and electric guitars, bass and drums augmented by pedal steel (Rusty Blake) and fiddle (Rosie Newton), produces a basic country soundscape that has its roots as much in the straight-country and crossover traditions as in 70s and 80s roots-country-rock, that in turn takes its cues from The Band and the Burritos on in. Engaging flavours of other roots musics float in and out too, with (for instance) Ethan's songs sometimes taking in a rock-steady Jamaican vibe (In My Cups) or soulful ballad (Off The Shelf), Cahalen's breathing authentic honky-tonk heartbreak (Sadder Day) or swinging homespun advice (Philosophers And Fools), and Jim's giving spiritual guidance amidst hardship (The Long Game). You hardly notice it, but Cahalen brings six tracks to the table as against Ethen and Jim's three apiece.

But it's fascinating also to observe how each songwriter has his own authentic take on relationship issues yet each conveys their import with total honesty and when taken together over the course of a whole album contributes to a convincing overview. It also presents a sequence of tracks that's as good for the dance-floor as it is for the armchair-radio listen - retro in all the right ways, with assured quality and consistency.

David Kidman