Brokeback – Illinois River Valley Blues (LP+MP3)

Image: 1607954 A sense of place has been essential to the music of Brokeback since guitarist/bassist
Douglas McCombs frst launched the project in 1995. Initially conceived as a solo
outlet, the Chicago group has taken on new dimensions over the past two decades,
morphing from the lean, pastoral ambience of the frst album, Field Recordings
from the Cook County Water Table, to the more muscular, taut arrangements
and dynamic swells of the last release, Brokeback and the Black Rock, for which
McCombs assembled a new quartet lineup. Each album develops with exacting
detail, revealing McCombs’s gift for dialing in the essence of a mood, feeling, or
distant locale with a handful of reverb-laden guitar tones, elegant and sustained,
strategically placed and sparingly deployed. The instrumental landscapes he creates
on Illinois River Valley Blues are utterly transportive, evoking familiar open-frontier
soundtracks and charting out new sonic territory.
McCombs’s singular approach to guitar and bass, characteristic of his work with
Tortoise, is expertly enhanced here by James Elkington (Tweedy, Steve Gunn) on
second guitar (moving over from drums on the last record). The two salute one of
McCombs’s favorite bands, Television, with latticed dual leads on the stately yet
aggressive “On the Move and Vanishing,” while Elkington’s subtle layers of pedal
steel and organ burnish more ruminative forays like “Andalusia, IL” and “Ursula.”
Their intertwining ?ights are anchored by the sturdy yet versatile rhythm team of
bassist Pete Croke (Exit Verse, Tight Phantomz) and drummer Areif Sless-Kitain
(the Eternals), the newest member of Brokeback.
Thematically this is McCombs’s most personal offering yet, re?ecting on his early
years growing up along the Illinois River corridor between Peoria and Chicago.
Though the inspiration is McCombs’s, the execution is wholly a group effort. With
the same instrumentation and mostly the same lineup as the previous album, the
band stretches its leader’s eternal fascination with the roots of American guitar
music in bold new directions. A serpentine mystique runs through “Rise, Fernanda,
Rise!,” and “Cairo Levee” conjures a desert atmosphere closer to the Sahara than
the American southwest. Side one of the album closes with a moody, meditative
take on “Spanish Venus,” a ballad written by cornetist and sometime Brokeback
collaborator Rob Mazurek (Chicago Underground, Exploding Star Orchestra). “I
could hear Brokeback doing the tune from the moment I heard him workshopping
it with Pulsar Quartet at a little cocktail bar in Logan Square,” says McCombs.
Several songs feature lush, multi-layered vocals by Amalea Tshilds (the Paulina
Hollers), who made a deep impression on McCombs with a spellbinding a cappella
performance a couple years ago. “I often imagine female vocals on Brokeback
records, but I wanted it to be someone that I have personal history with, someone
who can nail it, not to mention someone who I know digs the music,” he says.
“That’s why Mary Hansen (Stereolab) sang on all those earlier records and why I
wanted Lea for this.”
Illinois River Valley Blues is a winding, wistful travelogue that not only captures
darker textures but mines their depths. That’s been part of McCombs’s vision for
Brokeback from the start: “To me a song is not worth writing if it doesn’t have a
strong sense of melancholy,” he says

1. Ride Ahead and Light
the Way For Me
2. Cairo Levee
3. The Canyons of Illinois
4. Andalusia, IL
5. Spanish Venus
6. On the Move and Vanishing
7. Rise, Fernanda, Rise!
8. Ursula
9. The Strollers’ Memorial
10. Night Falls on Chillicothe

Brokeback is the longstanding project of Douglas McCombs.
McCombs is a member of Tortoise, Eleventh Dream Day, The
Sea and Cake, and Pullman, and has worked with Tom Ze,
Azita Youseff, Will Oldham, Calexico and Yo La Tengo
The current Brokeback quartet lineup features McCombs
joined by James Elkington (Tweedy, Steve Gunn), Pete
Croke (Exit Verse, Tight Phantomz), and Areif Sless-Kitain
(The Eternals)
Illinois River Valley Blues was produced by John McEntire
(Stereolab, Yo La Tengo)
Album photography by Sam Prekop (The Sea and Cake)
Brokeback will tour extensively throughout the year
The album features guest vocals from Amalea Tshilds (the
Paulina Hollers) and a cover of a Rob Mazurek written ballad
(Chicago Underground, Exploding Star Orchestra)
“for anyone who appreciates an outstanding rhythm section
pushing interesting song structures, topped with emotionrich storytelling that’s done through a guitar”
– Premier Guitar
“… at its center it’s all ragged glory, guys banging out riffs
and solos, a clear-cut delve into the rock frmament. You can
practically feel the band members blowing the dust off their
old plaid shirts and cracking open a six pack” – Pitchfork Erhältlich ab 24.02.2017

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