Western Centuries: Weight of the World
The worn floor of an old honky-tonk is not usually a place you’d think of as welcoming to bold new experimentation. If you’ve got something new to say, you’d better say it in the form of a brisk two-step that keeps the dancers moving. So it’s doubly impressive that Seattle country band Western Centuries is able to meld wildly disparate influences into an original honky-tonk sound that won’t make dancers miss a step. Formed originally under the name Country Hammer by Americana songwriter Cahalen Morrison, known for his innovative work as an acoustic duo with Eli West, Western Centuries revolves around three principal songwriters–Morrison, Ethan Lawton, and Jim Miller–each with a totally different perspective. Here, Cahalen Morrison channels his New Mexico roots–he grew up exploring lost arroyos and playing drums in a conjunto band–into a kind of blood-red Western drawl. His songs are as influenced by cowboy poetry or his great-grandfather’s Scottish Gaelic poetry as much as his love of George Jones. Ethan Lawton came out of the rough, working-class streets of Seattle’s South end, working in hip-hop and punk before losing his heart to bluegrass. His bone-dry vocals meld intensely with the rocksteady back-beat of his country songs, born from his love of old Jamaican 45s mixed with early bluegrass. Jim Miller comes from the jamband circuit, where he ruled for decades as a founding member of the much-loved band Donna The Buffalo. Throughout, the dancefloor was his temple, and he cribbed ideas from Louisiana Zydeco all the way to the The Band. Western Centuries’ debut album, Weight of the World, released by Free Dirt Records on June 3, 2016, introduces a band of roots music mavericks bringing refreshingly new ideas to their country roots.
Produced by Bill Reynolds (Band of Horses) and recorded in his Nashville studio, Weight of the World features powerful musicianship from all members, including special guests Rusty Blake (pedal steel), Rosie Newton (fiddle), and Dan Lowinger (bass). With songs that have been road-tested on actual dance floors throughout the Pacific Northwest, the bedrock of American honky-tonk on this album was hard-earned. The progressive, almost psychedelic nature of Weight of the World’s lyrics, however, infuses the 12-track record with a distinctly modern sensibility. Sure, there’s plenty of country telecaster twang, but Western Centuries elevate these neo-traditional two-stepping tunes into transcendental, rootsy rock-‘n-roll-doused think-pieces. With each songwriter’s distinct approach, and the strict dictums of the dancefloor ruling the sound, Western Centuries deconstructs the world of country dance. But it’s also marked with a profound ingenuity – the type that feels instinctual rather than intentionally labored for, the kind that continues to flourish and snake into new realms as time wears on. This is just the beginning for Western Centuries, and it’s not likely their creative well is going to dry up any time soon.