Give me an album or a song with a pedal steel guitar and a banjo, and I’m as happy as a cow in clover. And, happy is just what I am when listening to Kalispell’s new album Westbound.
Kalispell, is the work of Shane Leonard from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, who is accompanied by Ben Lester (AA Bondy, S. Carey), Kevin Rowe (The Barley Jacks) and others. Westbound is Kalispell’s first full-length album, but it sounds like the fifth. I guess that during the six years it took to make it, Shane was able to create something familiar yet new. Listening to Westbound is like meeting someone for the first time but with the unshakable feeling that you’ve known them for years. In other words, it’s timeless but not trite.
Also, in the six years it took Shane to make this album he lived. He has traveled, moved from Massachusetts to Wisconsin, fell in and out of love, and never resting on his laurels, and it shows in his songwriting. On album opener “Fly Over” with harmonica in hand and pedal steel guitar floating in the background, Shane gives us a solid and soaring country-flavored tune perfect for the Summer. However, under the uptempo music there is something deeper than your run-of-the-mill Summer tune. And, the mix of a clawhammer banjo and pedal steel jumping and dancing around lyrics like,
church taught me how to hold a grudge
my brother taught me how to let it go
he learned from his father
we learn from our father
isn’t that the way that this is supposed to go?
makes a crisp and clean song that is simple yet smart. And, my favorite on the album (go figure), “Sepia Ghost”, has the pedal steel front-and-center. Nothing frilly about this song. It’s a piece of slow, intimate goodness. Lastly, because of my blue and sappy nature my attention was grabbed by another outstanding song “Lucky A Hundred Times”. The earnestness of the abstract lyrics like,
glowing from a television mind
honesty as currency – it feels like lying
go then, proudly
“I’ve been lucky a hundred times”
staring down a cold street light
“darling won’t you tell me when it’s in the right?
your goodbyes had me.
I’ve been lucky a hundred times”
connects with me on a deep emotional level that can not be explained.
These personal and poetic confessions set to a beautiful backdrop of banjo, pedal steel guitar, fiddles, and guitar makes Westbound a stellar first album. And, I am personally thankful to Shane for not rushing the creative process because there is a lot of living, moving, and loving that happens in six years and it’s all abstractly documented in this gorgeous musical diary.