Weird Ass Americana.
That’s my jam.
Whether going back years to Mary Gauthier, Sam Baker, Roscoe Holcombe, Ray Wylie Hubbard, and every bluegrass band recording prior to 1980, up to and including Willi Carlisle, Melissa Carper, Otis Gibbs, and Scott Cook, a scan of my CD shelves will bring the phrase to mind.
Weird Ass Americana.
Not the normal Americana, the smooth stuff, the pretty songs, although you’ll find those, too.
Nope. Take a careful examination, and you’ll come to the conclusion that I like the strange, the stuff that doesn’t always get a lot of notice. The artists from the ‘broken heart side of the road,’ as Bill Scorzari may call it.
I loved those previous albums, all three of them. They challenged me, they made me think. Most of all, they were damned fine examples of the kind of music I most enjoy experiencing.
The Crosswinds of Kansas? Another level. Coming in at well over an hour, there isn’t a moment of wasted space.
Scorzari is formerly a New York-based lawyer, inspired to the route of the troubadour by Justin Townes Earle. His inspiration appears to come from the land and people he experiences during his travels, and his family and their bonds. Scorzari loves language, enjoys crafting it to ensure he is communicating exactly the nuance desired; while ‘wordy’, his songs require each of his chosen phrases.
This is brought to its ultimate conclusion with “Tryin’, Tryin’, Tryin’, Tryin,” the epic, twelve-minute closing track. Requiring the construction of a new pipe flute in just the right key, as well as learning to sing in Navajo under the tutelage of Native speakers, the song could likely have been executed in another manner without an arduous process. But, that isn’t Scorzari’s way. Months of consultation and learning went into this masterful song, further accented by various drums and calls, as well as a traditional chant from his teacher, Ty Allisson.
Family is at the core of “I-70 East,” but Scorzari elevates the circumstances of his cross-country drive to aid his ailing mother into a song of lost love. Similarly, “Inside My Heart” captures the tortured travails of a relationship doomed: “I should be more careful who I love.”
The poetic rhythm of Scorzari’s lyrics is most impressive, the syllables serving as elemental pulse as much as any of the (many) instruments constructing his songs. “All Behind Me Now” begins:
“The road’s wide open. My heart’s wide open. My mind’s wide open.
The words I’ve spoken are all behind me now.
Your heart’s been broken. My heart’s been broken.
The doors are closed and, like some twisted joke, it’s not funny,
but everybody just keeps laughin’ anyhow,
and then you turn to me and say, ‘Hey, did you hear the one about
how you’ll be hidin’ the rain behind your old sunglasses
and still ridin’ this train after my station passes? Bye.
And, how I’ll put all of my thoughts into a new straw hat
and say, ‘I don’t have to care,’ and leave you there with that,
and, you’ll think that it was all just a lie, or that I forgot the punchline somehow,
or, ha, maybe I just didn’t tell it right.’”
The syllables here have a human rhythm, a natural beat that is absorbed by the listener’s body.
The oldest songs on The Crosswinds of Kansas—”Oceans in Your Eyes,” “Try, Try Again,” and “Patience and Time”—follow more closely expected songwriting structure than do recent creations, but do not suffer for their restraint. Still, Scorzari doesn’t do conventional. Along the way, he encounters a spectre of undefined origin (“Not Should’ve Known”) and hope for a stable relationship (“Patience and Time”) while further exploring his darker thoughts (“A Ghost, My Hat, and My Coat”) and accepting fate in “Measure of a Man”: “In the end you’re still gonna have to gather all the stones that you’ve tossed…”
“She lit my fields with fire from hell. She burned down my home; salted my well. She broke all my bones and left me still, on the broken heart side of the road.”
Hell of a song, still.
Each song envelopes the listener, sharing its secrets and truths. A set of lines spoke to me on my fifth or seventh listen through:
“Like, when my daddy told me,
‘Boy, when you do what you do out here in the light,
just make sure that it won’t be
somethin’ that might keep you awake in the night.’”
Man, to have been gifted such concise wisdom…This is what I find with Scorzari’s songs and albums: there is always something new to capture your attention, something previously missed that reveals itself as it must.
The band is mostly familiar with many from previous Scorzari albums, and includes co-producer Nelson Hubbard (drums, percussion, windchimes, and more), Kyle Tuttle (banjo), Will Kimbrough (mandolin), Fats Kaplin (fiddle, viola, pedal steel), Juan Solorzano (slide, electric, baritone, and lap steel guitars), Matt Menefee (banjo), Brent Burke (Dobro), Danny Mitchell (piano and Hammond B3), Michael Rinne (bass), Chelsea McGough (cello), and Eamon McLoughlin (fiddle) along with vocalists including Cindy Richardson Walker and Marie Lewey. Scorzari plays acostic guitar, and select Dobro, mandolin, electric guitar, and the Native American flutes.
I’ve not discovered many albums the quality of The Crosswinds of Kansas this year. I think that speaks more about Bill Scorzari than it does to what I’ve been listening to.
A masterful creation of Weird Ass Americana.
Come find us!