“Listen all you people,” swaggers a vocal from the speakers. “I’ve got a little story for you ... Listen to this CD, I’ll set the mood.” Enter the Mad Cow Boys with the opening cut, All About the X, from their self-titled debut.
The album’s chock-full of catchy hooks, hot guitar leads and commanding vocals, showcased in tunes like “Sleep Tight,” where the smoky, syncopated cadence of the lead vox gives way to cascading harmonies in the chorus. Several cuts benefit from the tension and release of buildup versus and payoff choruses; I haven’t seen this band live but have a hunch their time on stage has gone a long way toward honing their songwriting chops.
The group consists of stepbrothers Joseph Anglin (lead guitar, vocals) and Dustin Castle (lead vocal, rhythm guitar), with drummer Barry Eppley and Aaron Hoffman on bass. Members have logged time in other combos, most notably Cloud Nine, Aspera and One Way.
›The Cow Boys’ bio points out that they’re “partial to the classics” and “lean toward the endearing sounds of analog,” tastes which are really evidenced on the album - especially in the lead guitar department. Anglin pulls some impressive wails out of his axe, notably during the wah-drenched solo on “Better Way” and Santana-isms of “Autumn’s Peak.” But the tones are pretty fresh, never too music-store generic, and Anglin’s leads manage to recall the guitar-hero days without coming off as ostentatious.
Most of the songs groove on a bed of mildly funky rhythm seasoned with southern rock touches, but the band throws enough curveballs to keep the festivities interesting. A smile is almost guaranteed upon hearing the ELO-like beginning of “Autumn’s Peak,” and aficionados of the British Invasion era will be pleased by the pretty, acoustic-tinged “60 Going On 3,” a meditation on recapturing the spirit of youth.
A flurry of drums opens “Tough,” bolstered by a groovy, heavy fuzz-guitar riff. The vocals follow suit, growling and flowing, pronouncing words such as “honey” more like “HOHNAAAAY” and generally taking over the place. Then, as if the back door of a smoky rock club has been thrown open, we’re treated to a sunny meadow of vocal harmonies in the bridge. Of course, after catching our breath, we go back in for more.
All’s not fun and games, though. “Complications” speaks of troubled times and couples in emotional and financial distress: “Larry and Mary share an unfair contradictory, classic history ‘tween a hard place and misery.”
Occasionally the lyrics steer toward the predictable, with several of the songs describing blue-collar loves sought and lost. But really, only someone in the midst of young adulthood can speak such broad brush-stroke words, bold and upper case, with conviction. There will be plenty of time to accumulate the baggage of experience and complexity; for now these words articulate a young man’s world, and in that context they’re completely appropriate.
“As the Winds Change” is a smooth, moody rumination that brings the disc to a close with a classy and complex descending guitar line. A nice way to end this debut from a young band that’s only going to get better.
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Marcus King Band
July 21 • Sweetwater Performace Pavilion