Originally from Alaska, singer Brad Schmauss is now based in London and – as the man responsible for writing the 13 songs on “The Almanac” – it is interesting how those two worlds colour the tracks.
Aside from the fact that the collection often touches on brilliance, it is clearly the work of supremely gifted musicians, and it is credit to Schmauss that he has surrounded himself with such talent as Martin Gray (Piano, guitars, vocals), his long-term musical partner, and that relationship has now grown into the band that is No Coward Soul.
Right from the opener piano tinkle of “Lighthouse” this is obviously a record that is ready. There are hints of Ryan Adams’ seminal “Gold” album, together with some wonderfully offbeat lyrics. “If we were two children” offers Schmauss, “I’d give you my juice.” And when you get down to it, what is sweeter than that. The song itself has a poppy hook which is not present anywhere else, and in fairness, this is not a record that settles too long on one theme – as if it has a desire to cover as much ground as possible.
“Fireflies” is superb Americana tinged stuff, while “Bullet” has a bluesy, barroom piano feel, like it is tired at the end of the night and there is the air of Paul Simon about the superb “Holy Toledo”,
As good as the rest of them are – and the weather-beaten “Nighthawks” is dry as dust, to be honest, everything here has to play on the undercard to the undoubted gem in this already well-decorated crown. “Death N Texas” is one of those rare things that captures something special. A chorus that you know already somehow and harmonies from Brad and Sarah “Egg” Phillips that many bands spend a career trying for and never find.
However, this is clearly an ambitious record. The title track is a spoken word piece as if to exemplify that, while “Braves” would make for a hell of a single if anyone still makes them? And “Belly Of The Whale” is perhaps them returning to something approaching their roots as an acoustic band – except they’ve moved on and the chorus is something more expansive, and as much as “Orpheus” and “Lil Mikey Mountain” have a blue-collar feel, this is not the work of the usual bands of this ilk and the way they weave their respective stories is impressive.
“654” – at just under five minutes the longest cut here – sees everyone stretch themselves and perhaps reveal another side to things. This wouldn’t be too far out of place on a Brian Fallon solo record and perhaps the spirit of this album is captured best in the closing country flavoured ballad “Gotta Believe.” “You gotta believe, just don’t believe in nothing.” Goes its refrain, and the feeling is that everyone involved totally bought into this.
No Coward Soul haven’t rushed anything here and their years of concerts and the evolution they have already undergone is of huge benefit here. The fact they have all been able to hone their craft in this way means that “The Almanac” is not the sound of a band that is putting out a debut album of great promise, but one which is already delivering. It is the work of a group that has designs on making a career not just a statement.