We all have a Platonic ideal of music. You can read what mine was five years ago, but it has changed since then. Now it’s something along the lines of beautiful melodies that get stuck in my head, an effortless voice, gentle acoustic guitars, storytelling lyrics, and subtle emotions.
Ovando’s “Dupuyer” gets pretty close to that Platonic ideal: Nate Hegyi’s vocals seem like they tumble gracefully out of his throat, while the female harmonies are similarly unadorned. Those voices carry a song of woe about the American West (are there any other type?), floating over lithe, smooth guitar fingerpicking.
Even though the song is spartan, it is assured and complete; the song doesn’t sound like it’s missing anything. Instead, the careful performances fill in all the spaces of the tune to make it feel full and right. “Dupuyer” feels like a Rehearsals for Departure-era Damien Jurado tune, which is a high compliment from over here.
“Dupuyer” opens Cattle Ranching in the Americas, Vol. 1, kicking off a trilogy of EPs focused on the American West. (Dupuyer is a town in Montana, population 86.) The inaugural EP is both admiring of the form of songs that are sung about this place and unflinching in its assessments of the area.
The songs are wide-open, beautiful ballads. The guitar strum in “The Painter of Great Falls” slightly pushes the tempo forward; sonorous, legato strings push back. It frames Hegyi’s voice neatly, giving him space to tell a story. “Saskatchewan” incorporates pizzicato strings and staccato-yet-gentle vocal melodies to recall Michigan-era Sufjan Stevens; “Vigilante Cabin” sees Hegyi speed up the delivery of the vocal in the verses only to slow back down for one of the most memorable melodies of the EP in the chorus.
There’s tape hiss evident throughout each of the tracks, which only serves to heighten the sense of close, intimate performance. These four songs feel like they could have been played in bunkhouses of the West by people waiting out long winters, or around campfires of people working in the summer. Yet they don’t feel self-consciously “vintage” — they feel timeless.
Aside from the music, one of the most interesting inclusions on the EP is a radio clip at the beginning of “The Painter of Great Falls” that explains in very talk-radio fashion the story of a standoff between land owners and the federal government (the likes of which we just saw in Oregon–in fact, the clip may be about the Oregon situation). Cattle Ranching doesn’t shy away from the tensions there in the West, acknowledging that trouble and hardship aren’t just historical things, but ongoing things. The story of “Dupuyer” might be in the past tense, but losing the farm is a real concern for people today. It’s this sort of engagement through storytelling of the livin’ and dyin’ out west that makes Cattle Ranching more than just pretty music.
Ovando’s Cattle Ranching in the Americas, Vol. 1 is a magnificent EP. Its four songs contain beautiful moods, strong melodies, remarkable arrangements, and evocative lyrics. Those who like slowcore music, troubadour folk, or gentle music in general will find much to love in Ovando’s work. I am already looking forward to volumes two and three.
You can pre-order Cattle Ranching at Ovando’s Bandcamp. Fittingly, Hegyi is going on a tour of the American West starting in a few days; check out a show, if you’re in the neighborhood.
3/25 – Missoula, MT @ VFW*
3/26 – Spokane, WA @ Organic Farm Show for KYRS Community Radio*
3/30 – Seattle, WA @ Capital Cider*
3/31 – Cottage Grove, OR @ Axe and Fiddle*
4/01 – Portland, OR @ Turn, Turn, Turn*
4/02 – Willamina, OR @ Wildwood Hotel
4/03 – Coos Bay, OR @ 7 Devils Brewing Co.
4/05 – Columbia City, WA @ Royal Room*
4/06 – Anacortes, WA @ The Brown Lantern
4/07 – Conway, WA @ Conway Muse**
4/08 – La Conner, WA @ Anelia’s Kitchen and Stage
4/09 – Winthrop, WA @ Old Schoolhouse Brewery
** Hoe and the Harrow