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Alectro

School of Desire – 2015 (BePop)

Reviewed by Jason MacNeil

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CDs by Alectro

Alectro, led by Steve Kirkman and Jeff Eyrich, reference "spaghetti Westerns" and Duane Eddy in their bio, but the only thought one comes up with is a finely-tuned homage to the great Ennio Morricone. There is very little bad and nothing ugly on this album. It's all quite good just from the opening moments of "The Debt." Think of Clint Eastwood in his heyday (before talking to a chair) with his poncho and the greatest moments of Calexico, and you have a good idea of what's to come. This same kind of hue comes again on the crawling "Shining Star," which sounds like John Hiatt or a bluesy nugget by the likes of Rodney Crowell.

But it's not all entirely cinematic sonic vignettes. Alectro then go down a route the late JJ Cale did several times on the title track, a loose, fun, groovy ditty that ambles along gracefully. Through it all Alectro shine, particularly on the dirty, bluesy "Fork In The Road" that recalls a mix of Canadian folkie Bruce Cockburn and Gary Clark Jr. It continues to build slowly but steadily a la Buddy Guy's "Baby Please Don't Leave Me."

Yet this isn't the blueprint for the entire album, as it's often as sparse and vast as Ry Cooder's soundtrack to "Paris, Texas." This is certainly the case on the dreamy "Sunset At County Line," which acts as a terrific buffer between the album's first and second halves.

If the album has a lullaby, it has to be the rather un-lullaby titled "Cross And The Switchblade." Here Alectro almost give the song a hymnal-like flavor on a track whose only knock might be ending far too quickly than it should. This is almost the polar opposite of the blues-by-number "Tobacco Road" that has a muddy, gritty style to it as Kirkman and Eyrich (in a previous life, he produced "Hard Line" by The Blasters, "Proof Through the Night" by T-Bone Burnett, "The Las Vegas Story" by Gun Club and "Long Gone Dead" by Rank & File). talk about dirty shacks and blowing things up. Meanwhile "Whiskey Water" lyrically isn't all that memorable, but seems to follow the foundation this album is built on: moody, but effective arrangements inspired by a film that has yet to be made.