One look at the cover and a double check of the title and one could well imagine that here was a country and western album, and you would be right, but you would also be very wrong indeed. After the wonderful debut ‘His Name Is Stan And He’s A Bad motherf**ker’ in 2018, and the subsequent ‘Howling Mad Black Music Under Hot Stars’ the following year, the band took a little longer to return with their third release which has seen them move in quite a different direction. Within the band we still have Kevin Sims (guitars, vocals), Greg Seale (drums) and Ted Thomas (bass, vocals) but keyboard player Thomas Shaw has left to be replaced by Philip Spann. There are still plenty of progheads who feel that prog is a genre and style, whereas I have always felt that it is that indeed but is also so much more and I love it when musicians don’t bother thinking outside the box but instead refuse to acknowledge its assistance in the very first place.
What we have here are a progressive rock band taking a journey into the heavily uncharted waters of country and western, picking up Steely Dan on the way, to create a spaghetti western prog concept, which is unusual to say the least. According to the band the album, “tells the story of Otter, a white man who loses his young and beautiful wife Annalee one spring morning when their property is raided by a clan of Comanche Indians. He is broken and resolves to drink himself to death. And Thorn Eater, an American Indian, who loses his son Crawfish to smallpox. He is broken and resolves to find the place which his ancestors told of where one might reconnect with the spirit of their lost ones. A place called The Hidden City. On his journey Thorn Eater comes upon the Last Stop Saloon. A rough place in the middle of nowhere. Inside he has a run in with a drunken white slumped at the end of the bar (Otter) and after a few hateful words and a brawl, Thorn Eater, realizing they are the same in their pain and loss, tells Otter about The Hidden City and invites him to come along. They leave the Last Stop and Thorn Eater shares his tea with Otter. Peyote tea. They enter The Hidden City and the real story begins.”
Imagine all that wrapped up in melodic hook-laden music which refuses to take itself seriously while having a blast throughout. This is light, exciting, and just so much damn fun to listen to. Somehow, the different threads come together to create something which is commercial and accessible while also being quite unlike anything else around. They have taken their influences and moved them into a totally different level while also having fun, such as using some very twee synth sounds at the beginning of “The Horse’s Eyes” which are a delight. This is a blast throughout, exciting, fully of life and joy, and all one can do while playing is to do so with a smile. Here we have a prog album which is not taking itself seriously at all and is all the better for it.
8/10 Kev Rowland