There is plenty of rock in these desert roads
It is incredible, really, that within about three seconds of the opening track “Bakersfield”, Buckley has revealed the essence of what makes “Las Cruces” so utterly beguiling.
In those strains of guitar, those few notes, there is a depth, a darkness, an almost unspoken sadness. All of which leads to a kind of bond between the artist and the listener. Immediately, you understand that this is a dark record, full of texture, and one which will be your companion on those nights when the love of your life texts you to say that whatever bloke she’s with who she likes more than you is an arsehole (or indeed, whatever haunts your particular bleak soul as you try and sleep that’s just a suggestion).
And if you can get all this from just the first few seconds, then just imagine what happens in the next 40 minutes or so. The answer: a lot – and it’s all brilliant.
Take the opener, Buckley reveals his pain by suggesting that it is all just “another twist of the knife” but musically, the thing builds and broods, and does the Drive By Truckers thing of getting way heavier than you expect and the solo here screeches a little more than most.
Indeed, look at the bottom of the cover. Right hand side it says: “Listen Loud” and you’d best believe that “Las Cruces” reckons that if you are going to face a crossroads then brother, you’d best do it at volume, and do it like you mean it.
To that end “Old Glory” is about as raw as Americana gets, but all the while with sugar sweet harmonies that recall Neil Young at his best, but such is the skill on this quite superb set of nine songs that it can switch gear effortlessly. “Devil Slide” proves that there is something eerie on these dirt roads, as if you wouldn’t want to veer off the path just in case.
The title track forms the centrepiece of the thing. A real poetic force, but one which packs a punch and a crunch. Reminiscent of MV faves The Bohannon’s it is a classy and confident track that offers – as so many here do – a sense of urgency and foreboding.
A richly textured record, “Consuela” with its fine Lap Steel, offers an almost summery feel, and its tale of offbeat love (”when we first met, you had some miles on you – I did too”) is strangely contented, while “Three Chiefs” is a straight up hard rocker with a hook and some fine riffing and just when you think it cannot take any further turns it manages to find the Stones like tones and the funky piano of “Downtown.”
Picking a favourite on an album as strong as this one is difficult, but “Clawson Hill” is a real highlight. One for the Good Ol’ Boys, but with the trippy air of Chris Robinson’s solo stuff, it finds Buckley lamenting change for the worst, and in many ways it acts as a precursor for the long and winding road of “Perfect Storm” and if the album was the product of long, late night drives from gig to gig, here you can find the troubadour at his most widescreen, alone and looking up at the stars. There is a wonderful, unhurried air about this.
The artist describes himself as “a man at a continual crossroads.” This particular journey to the town of Las Cruces might have been into the wilds of New Mexico and to a town of just over 100,000 people, but it has far wider reaching consequences. The album that took its name from the town has resonance for any restless soul.