Bright Eyes’ I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning left an indelible mark on my musical brain. I’ve never liked anything that Conor Oberst has put out so thoroughly: the neurotic energy, youthful fervor, and surrealist lyrics fit perfectly with that specific rambunctious alt-country backdrop. I seek out shades of those raw, impassioned blasts of acoustic guitar and barked vocals wherever I can. Josiah and the Bonnevilles‘ Cold Blood EP is the direct successor of that landmark album. It’s a stake in the ground that establishes the outfit as one to watch: a specific vision expertly handled within the goalposts of a genre framework that people are already familiar with.
The title track took five seconds to entrance me: Josiah calls out into empty space “I’ve got a girl / she only puts out water in the night, in the day, and in the morning” over a nimble fingerpicking pattern. His tenor has a rough edge on it, tempered a bit by the gentle reverb added to it: it’s a magnetic, arresting voice. The rest of the band tag-teams their band through the song: a solitary tambourine is joined by a shaker to create the full percussion line; the round, full bass opens the song up; and the marimba (what) gives a mysterious air to the tune. Instruments come in and fall out (strings! background vocals!), but the whole thing is guided confidently toward a full product by Josiah’s bent, worried lyrics and evocative vocal performance. It’s an expertly crafted tune that you need to hear.
The other three tunes build on the promise of the first track. “Can You Hear It” amps up the singalong vibe and throws down a jaunty piano line to buoy the major-key song. “Lie to Me” returns to the minor key and bashes out a full-band apology to a girl in a relationship that’s falling apart; this one reprises the tambourine from “Cold Blood” and the piano of “Can You Hear It,” but puts in a full drumkit to come up with the most rock-oriented track here. It would sound like Dawes if Josiah’s voice sounded anything like Taylor Goldsmith’s. Closer “Long Gone” features more fingerpicking in a slightly unusual pattern that seems to be tripping over itself trying to get to the end of the riff, perfectly mirroring the narrator’s activity in the song. The band floats in for a final chorus, but it’s most a solo effort, showing Josiah’s troubadour abilities.
The four-song EP is gone much too quickly, but the songs are of such diversity (and such high quality) that you can just loop it back to the beginning and you’ll be good to go for another twelve minutes (or 24, or 36, or…). It’s that good. Call it alt-country, alt-folk, whatever; you’ll know what it is when you hear it. The shadow of youthful alt-countriers past hangs over it but never engulfs it; instead Josiah points the way toward his own path. I’m verging on the purple prose here, but the songs really are that good. Josiah and the Bonneville’s Cold Blood EP is a remarkable first effort that shows off unique arranging skills, intriguing vocals, and strong overall songs. I can’t wait to hear more from this outfit. Highly recommended.