Them Coulee Boys’ Namesake is definitive proof that (the great) Porter Wagner was sincerely correct when he sang, “It’s good to touch the green green grass of home”. And, yes, this is a wonderful dream of a record that breaks free from “the four grey walls that surround me” and opens the bluegrass/folk/rock throttle to burn its melodic way through my rural Midwest Wisconsin with its dense northern woods, western cliffs, countless backroads that girdle small towns with Budweiser taverns, red barns, John Deere tractors, August hay bales, and of course, way too many cows.
This album just comes home to that “green grass” smack dab in the soul of America. Heck, the Mississippi River runs through the pulse of these tunes.
The first song (and title tune!), ‘Namesake’, is acoustic guitar-vocal-banjo-mandolin-bass-drums quick step powerhouse that oozes a northern Wisconsin country road carefree melody that stirs up the thirst for a Leinenkugel (aka Leinie!) union made beer – brewed in Chippewa Falls – which is a stone’s throw away from the band’s base in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. And, yeah, this is Bon Iver country, where folks have the urge to contemplate life, hunt, fish, love the Green Bay Packers, and play honest music, because, well, that’s deep woods national forest freedom.
There’s more: ‘Given Up’, accents the ante and moves the music beyond the typical alt-folk with the dramatic flair of Soren Staff’s earnest Bruce Springsteen Nebraska voice which is haloed by Jens Staff’s organ and then punctuated with Beau Janke’s electric guitar, Neil Krause’s bass, and Stas Habel (who loves King Crimson!) on drums. Then, ‘Phil’s Song’ crunches a bit with another quiet pulse, but get weirdly psychedelic for a moment, before the tune explodes with a horse-galloping guitar solo – only to slow the gait for a moment – and then explode, once again, with a Kinks’ rollercoaster ‘Victoria’ like riff. Big praise, there.
There are slow tunes. ‘April 1st’ is angst personified with banjo plucked passion. The song swells with late August farm field promise, because, sometimes, just as a late August really decent folk song also promises, “I just want to say I love you and this time I hope it will be enough”. I think farmers and folk singers love the melody of their land. ‘Canyon’ is a slow waltzed song with a wonderful guitar solo that is juxtaposed to the honesty of the vocal. The same is true for ‘Repurposed Frowns’ (great title, that!), which is, again, folk small town dramatic confessional that longs for a slow dance partner to share a communal sadness as Neil Young’s cover of Don Gibson’s ‘Oh Lonesome Me’ plays on that small town dramatic confessional jukebox.
The really nice rollicking ‘Just Friends’ will give fans of John Prine’s ‘Your Flag Decal Wouldn’t Get You into Heaven Anymore’ a reason to rejoice.
The same is true for the rock pulse of ‘Team All-American’ that is unbelievably catchy like Willie Mays’ 1954 World Series grab, yet the lyrics chronicle the loss of big “first team all American dreams”. It’s a sad juxtaposition.
Ahh – ‘Knuckleballer’ is just one of those harmonica-puffed-thank you, Bob Dylan songs, that metaphorically uses baseball and the fact that “Daddy was a knuckleballer in the minor league” and “Momma “wore a bluer collar than seen on TV” to conjure Americana heritage. Indeed, as (the great) John Fogerty sang, “Put me in coach, I’m ready to play today”. But good stuff, thankfully, is passed down from generations, like a really nice Leinenkugel union made beer—brewed in Chippewa Falls recipe. And, by the way, the speaker’s daughter, Clara, “throws a knuckleball she learned from me”.
Just so you know, my dad threw a really great slider.
And, all of this Wisconsin stuff aside, this record will appeal to fans of the Avett Brothers, the Lumineers, or to throw out the name of an absolute classic roots rock record, Blue Jug’s Capricorn Records 1975 release.
Then, the final song, ‘Hallelujah’, floats in ephemeral space and is a mystical resolution, almost a prayer, sung over a melodic thought through my rural Midwest Wisconsin with its dense northern woods, western cliffs, and countless backroads that girdle small towns with Budweiser taverns, red barns, John Deere tractors, August hay bales, and of course, way too many cows. Namesake loves a good baseball game, the odd tractor pull, a fish boil, a fireman’s volunteer picnic, the sizzle of a bratwurst on the roadside grill, all because, of course, this music has Mississippi River water (with that local Leinie chaser!) flowing through the pulse of these very Americana tunes.
Artists’ website: https://www.themcouleeboys.com/
‘Given Up’ – official video:
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