CAVE FLOWERS – Cave Flowers (Hard Bark Records)

Cave FlowersCave Flowers’ self-titled album burns its own brand into the worn leather of alt-country rock ‘n’ roll.

And that’s a difficult thing to do.

The Eagles commercial sound didn’t help the genuine genre. Many years ago, about the time with ‘Lyin’ Eyes’ or ‘Take It To The Limit’ ruled radio air waves, I saw (the great) Neil Innes of Bonzo Dog fame, in some London pub. He played a song with perfect 4/4 time and an irresistible melody. As an American, I felt right at home. But then the tune went on and on, and quite frankly, couldn’t find its way out of Hotel California. At the ten-minute mark, I got the sarcasm. By the way, the song was called ‘Boring’.

I mean, alt country is sort of Americana’s reggae: The form has strict rules, a certain expected sound, a cowboy hat or two, and a pledge of allegiance to Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s brilliant album, Everyone Knows This Is No Where. Let’s face it: those songs like ‘Cowgirl In The Sand’ and ‘Down By The River’ are sonic pictographs graffitied on the Cavern’s rock ‘n’ roll walls.

That’s a tough act to follow.

But Cave Flowers pump blood life into the EKG of all things Americana. ‘Best Lonesome Friend’ has the big and glorious gas tank full-overdrive eyes-open road map-fast food fueled sound, like Son Volt, The Rave-Ups, Cowboy, Translator, Uncle Tupelo, and our unsung hero (and American treasure) Alejandro Escovedo. This is throttle open Jack Kerouac prose. Andy McAllister’s vocals hang on the hope for no more dust storms and vibrate like the wind against a prairie sod house.

‘Renter’s Life’ is a prayer to better times, with guitar sonics that touch the heavens. And the vocals sing a low solemn ode to old time music. This is Crazy Horse ‘Danger Bird’ stuff.

But the album has the alt country (without the rock) vibe. ‘Country Fan’ dances with lovable percussion and a barrelhouse piano. The Band’s ‘Rag Mama Rag’ comes to mind. Andy McAllister sings “My gut has a hole where all the drinking songs go”. Yeah, it’s that kind of record. ‘Midnight Movie’ has a great lyric worthy of Ray Davies’ Misfit ethos. This is such a fluid song, with whiskey vocals that anchor the song into the backstreets of sincere late-night flickered fantasy. ‘Hideaways’ is strummed with a rebellious Phil Ochs’certainty. This is dramatic country rock, with the tough beauty, perhaps, of a Lewis and Clark campfire sing-a-long. ‘Upperhand’ almost strangles in its dense folk-rock confession. But then, Henry Derek Elis’s guitar sings the song into a sublime collective ‘Mr. Soul’ bluesy orbit.

There is more music that escapes Neil Innes’ sarcasm. ‘Trick Tears’ is slow dance country purity. ‘Friendly Reminders’ answers with a quick pulse and an emotive vocal. ‘The Stranger’ continues with the equally quick folky pace and a deep memory of an electric guitar solo.

Ouch! ‘Greatest Hits’ rocks with the folky guitar spit that doesn’t want to play obvious songs to people who want to hear obvious songs.

In his own way, Neil Innes, with his satirical song, did the very same thing.

And then ‘Little Worries’ stretches passion about getting old, and well, “getting stuck” in all sorts of situations. The song is a quiet resolution to the complexities of life. Sure, it’s a tough illusion “to join me on this island”, but at least it’s an idea, an idea with the comfort of country alt rock that touches a beautiful tradition.

This album is old, and it is new; then it is old and new all over again. It rocks; then, it doesn’t rock. That’s the gist of a really nice record, a record that sings Jack Kerouac, and then manages a soft, but very melodic folk-rock alt country landing.

But, ultimately, this is an album of Cave Flowers, those oddly beautiful growths that vibrate, like brand new sonic pictographs, that will always be painted—with all the other great graffiti–on any Caverns’ forever rock ‘n’ roll wall.

Bill Golembeski

Artists’ website:

‘Best Lonesome Friend’: