Although opening salvo Vein of Blue might lull the listener into a sense that Cowboydelic is going to be a fairly straight down the line country collection, by the time the second track, Muck, arrives you realize that this is going to be a much more interesting prospect. It is also at this point that you understand the relevance of the album’s title, a nod back to a time when the more “out there” music scene began to merge with the more musically conservative sound of the south to form something that saw cowboys and freaks coming together to create it’s own, cosmic country, movement.
And it is interesting at this point to consider Andrew Clendenen’s own journey to date to gain a bit of understanding as to what inspirations and infusions run through his music. Having formed garage rock outfit The Heard in 1965 the band pursued a defiantly anti-counterculture path while also pushing the boundaries of their own sound into some more experimental places. Something which often gets the band mentioned in the same breath as the notorious 13th Floor Elevators. Exit 9 remains a track which best exemplifies this mercurial path.
And it is still this blend of 60’s garage rock, country vibes and more psychedelic moves which sparks at the heart of Andrew Clendenen’s sound, although as this album neatly demonstrates, he is more than happy to push out further from even this wide musical base. Prytania Street is a gorgeously effervescent and upbeat slice of country infused pop, the sort of thing that would keep the country stalwarts happy but which also appeals to fans of music with a looser vibe.
Picture On The Wall wanders some slightly more melancholic and reflective musical pathways but it is Winona’s Wedding which is the real heart-string tugger, deft, delicate and delicious. Monkey Mountain and Never Be Alone are where things really turn a corner, the former a gentle, piano and string led instrumental, the latter embracing more soulful, bluesy lines, slow and lingering and cocooned in lush harmonies.
It’s a wonderful album, and whilst the title gives you some idea of what you are going to find once the needle drops, even that doesn’t prepare the listener for the sonic range that it embraces. That said, given the journey that Clendenen has travelled from his high-school Heard days, everything you hear on Cowboydelic feels like obvious waypoints on the sonic wanderings which have got him from that point to this. Not only a snapshot of the artist today but the perfect musical expression of where he has come from and probably what he has always been.