Pistol Arrows, Pistol Arrows (Remorseless Records, 2000)

Originally Appeared in The Green Man Review.

I would have called this crew from the land of Woody Guthrie “alternative country” even though their self-titled second CD isn’t a genre album, but their website’s bio puts it better: “The Pistol Arrows play underground western music. (This is not to be confused with the deluge of insipid, uninspired groups often known as “alt-country”, or the tired and re-hashed sweater rockers proclaiming to carry the torch of “college rock”.) It’s more along the lines of western space pop, or modern oklahoma indie-rock.”

Indie rock indeed; I could have sworn I heard countrified Cure, Clash, and early Cars overtones in the punkish “Tough Mama”. In fact, “Which Way to Go” is a variation on the song by the similarly experimenting early-eighties punk group The Big Boys. This is not to say that The Pistol Arrows sound like a lot of other bands or their songs like every other song one’s ever heard. Precisely the opposite, they are breeding elements of pop, punk, funk, folk, and country into a unique style that is both a commentary on the familiar and a wonderfully peculiar departure from it. In a word, it’s fun!

In keeping with the “underground” approach, songwriter Sarmiento plays around above-ground country story elements such as the drunken one-night stand with tongue-in-cheek overtures like “I guess I’ll go home with you if we don’t have to touch,” and ventures a semi-yodel in “Old Feelings”.

Still, while it isn’t all flapjacks and biscuits, it isn’t simply protest music out to freak the mainstream country mundanes either. Allison Smith’s violin weaves a sophisticatedly simple conversation through “Someone Else’s Eyes” that breathes like untainted mountain air. Sarmiento croons “When it seems like your dues will never be paid…” in a lovely better-than-REM song of moral encouragement that couldn’t have been written out of a merely one-sided angst, while the mature commentary on alienation in a similarly positive “Mr. Vallentine” brings out all-American sentiments of persistence in the face of the very dead-end “face to the wall” experience that is the hallmark of sensitive youth.

Where it can be called “country” at all, it is more to the point beginning with a common folk experience that is perhaps more rightly called “Americana”.

Harmonica, banjo, edgy smoky vocals, tight coordination… This is one helluva good CD. If The Great Divide wore thin before trying it on, rest assured: a less hyped not-merely-hybridized Pistol Arrows is worth twice the ten dollars it cost.

Sample Music is here. Purchase the CD from the band’s excellent site or pay more at Amazon.com. And this amusing interview adds a uniquely Eric Sarmiento flavor to any first look at the Pistol Arrows.

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