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May 2024
Vol. 23, No. 8

CD Reviews


by Jim TrageserMay 2024

Doug Schmude’s paean to the American West resides in a richly rewarding vein of alt-country, which hearkens to Hollywood revisionist Westerns more so than Nashville of any decade.

His skepticism bordering on cynicism isn’t too far removed thematically from Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” from Sam Peckinpah’s 1973 anti-Western Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.

Musically, it’s closer to Paul Gross’ occasional original music from his too-brief 1990s television series Due South.

The half-sung vocal of “Red Dirt Symphony” recalls the late singer-poet Martin Jack “Holy Ranger” Rosenblum of Milwaukee, whose cowboy-on-a-Harley Americana captured a similar neo-Western folklore. And Schmude’s not too shabby of a poet himself:

From a thousand miles away
And more years than I can say
The fields of my youth
Have all been paved anyway
I got those long way from Oklahoma blues

The elegiac “The Near Salvation of Butch Cassidy” calls to mind the 2007 privately distributed soundtrack to the La Jolla Playhouse’s production of Songs from the Collected Works of Billy the Kid. That project by Des McAnuff and Michael Ondaatje captured a bittersweet, romantic yet not romanticized take on America’s fascination with outlaw culture.

It’s a fine balancing act that Schmude equals here, not only on “Butch Cassidy” but also on his re-imagining of the Bonnie and Clyde legend, “Helen and Monty.”

The pace is relaxed, sometimes languid. He lets his stories unfold at their own pace. This isn’t the sort of album that jumps out of the stereo at you; it’s more the kind that burrows under your skin, gets into your subconscious, popping up at unexpected times; recalling other songs of a similar raw honesty.

His combination of hoarse vocals, clean acoustic guitar lines, and vivid lyrical imagery are so singular, so distinctive that the half-dozen songs seem not nearly enough.

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