This is a review of "Country & Eastern" recorded by Bootscraper. The review was written by Jessica Thornsby in 2010.
Bootscraper's brand of kooky gypsy-punk makes 'Country & Eastern' a fun record guaranteed to get your toes tapping. You wouldn't turn down a repeat listen, but equally, you wouldn't go out of your way to hear this record again - it's fun, but far from essential listening.
There are many different facets to Bootscraper's sound, as they poke around the rarely-explored corners of country, punk, ska and gypsy mash-ups. The band embrace their country leanings, with the fleet-footed, barndance-sound-alikes of 'Blow The Man Down,' The Sundown Kid,' 'Gimme Some Time' and 'Where I Belong.'
'Where I Belong' is the least successful of the quartet, thanks to some mild-mannered vocals that fail to add a sense of urgency. Meanwhile, the alt-folk sing-along of 'Blow The Man Down,' has enthusiasm to spare, as Bootscraper squeeze in frantic strings, tambourines, boozy accordion and lashings of backing vocals, in a combo that's guaranteed to raise a smile. Bootscraper's barndance-inspired sound gets experimental on 'The Sundown Kid,' where the band spearhead the usual combo of jittery strings and jangling beats with a clean, soulful vocal that's at complete odds with everything else. It may sound like the ingredients for a musical nightmare but, as so often is the case with 'Country & Eastern' Bootscraper are clearly having the time of their lives, and their exuberance is difficult to resist.
While 'Blow The Man Down' and 'The Sundown Kid' are fun jigs, there's limited replay value. 'Gimme Some Time' keeps the party in full swing with some brisk banjo, whistles, strings and boozy accordion, but with added lamenting vocals, which give the listener something to sink their teeth into after the novelty of the silly, skittish rhythms has worn thin. The song most likely to have you coming back for a repeat listen.
But, Bootscraper offer more than just the soundtrack to your next hoedown; 'There Will Be Blood' and 'Past Lives of Saints' both feature a guttural, phlegmy vocal that sees these tracks edging towards the folk-punk genre. They're not as fun as 'Blow The Man Down' and 'The Sundown Kid,' but as a trade-off, they have longer-lasting appeal. The jazzier 'Past Lives of Saints' is the stronger of the two songs. The thick vocals, reverberating across this song's disjointed thump, create something that's quirky, catchy and impossible to categorise. An album highlight.
On 'The Life I Live,' Bootscraper embrace the slickness hinted at in 'Past Lives of Saints,' and sound twice as big as the band who clattered out 'Blow The Man Down.' Along with 'Past Lives of Saints,' this is the Bootscraper song you need to hear.
Bootscraper put the punk into gypsy-punk on 'Then You're Hers,' wielding their fiddles and banjos with all the demented urgency of a punk band. Inevitably, there's a whiff of novelty about it, but it's fresh and fun while it lasts. 'Never Satisfied' is the polar opposite: a simple song that gets it right, and a welcome change of pace after almost an entire album's worth of hyperactive strings.
When you consider all the potential pitfalls awaiting an album that ventures into such uncharted territory, it's impressive that 'The Ol' Waterin' Hole' is 'Country & Eastern's only major slip up. Everything about this song is wrong. The main vocal is strangled and abrasive (and not in a good way,) the backing "whoa-oh-oh!"s are half-hearted, and the less said about the opening voiceover (which sounds like Alestorm, only without the tongue-in-cheek humour) the better. Strangest of all though, is the way it putters along with no real desire to get anywhere. Avoid.
'Big Problemo' is a fitting album-closer, bringing together 'Country & Eastern's many threads. It combines the laidback cool of 'The Life I Live' with the sludgy vocals of 'There Will Be Blood' and 'Past Lives of Saints.' It then throws in a few things of its own devising, spinning the listener into a funhouse fanfare, and then moving inexplicably into some reggae-inspired grooves. 'Big Problemo' covers impressive musical terrain, with its sense of good humour and fun intact and, ultimately, this is what makes 'Country & Eastern' worth a listen or two - even if it won't earn a place in your New Favourite Album list.