Trail songs for a red-eyed caravan

REDEYE CARAVAN: Nostrum Remedium

Release year: 2020
Label: self-released

Music has always been central to western movies. So central, in fact, that most of the “golden ages” of western movies are inseparably linked to a very definite style to the soundtracks. In many a great western classic, it is not just the story, the actors or the cinematography which makes it immortal, but also the soundtrack.

The old Hollywood westerns from the pre-war period, the golden age of the so-called Hollywood cowboys and the singing cowboys, were accompanied by the soft and well-arranged western music of the likes of The Sons Of The Pioneers, Roy Rogers and Gene Autry; often the musicians would also star in the movies, with Autry and Rogers in particular being popular cowboy movie actors. In the post-war US westerns, the tradition of strong theme songs continued with artists such as Frankie Laine and Tex Ritter recording many a classic western song as movie title songs.

Likewise, the Italian spaghetti westerns had a very distinct style of music – yes, Ennio Morricone of course, but not only him: who can forget Luis Bacalov’s iconic theme song for the original Django?

Latter day western movies have a tendency towards a very gritty, often minimalist style of soundtracks. Often these are less song-centered, going for a more ambient style of composition using traditional instruments. Nonetheless, this is also a very distinct musical style which strongly characterizes the movies – and is also a fit with the rather gritty direction the western has taken in modern times.

With this brief and cursory overview of music in westerns as preamble for Greek group Redeye Caravan’s debut album, it probably comes as no surprise that western music is what the Greeks are all about. Primarily, the Greeks tap into the nitty and gritty, dirty sound of modern westerns with a lot of twangy guitars, haunting fiddles and foreboding atmospheres. They also tap into classic spaghetti western territory from time to time, but it is the dirty-in-the-face, dusty, desolate and grim atmospheres of modern westerns that the instrumentation evokes.

Another significant element in the Greeks’ take on nitty and gritty modern americana is dirty, abrasive, acoustic country blues; think Seasick Steve and the likes, the kind of stripped-down vocals and guitar approach with gravel in the throat and enough force applied to the strumming to almost make the strings snap. I also feel there are certain influences from Nick Cave here; the Australian legend is no stranger to tapping into americana and traditional US music in his own brand of darkness, and I feel this estranged take on americana echoes faintly in Redeye Caravan.

On this basic foundation of modern western and twangy country blues, Redeye Caravan add spice with things such as classic call-response vocals on The Road North and even a subtle and understated country gospel tinge on the vocal arrangements on Banshee. Obviously, the Greeks have taken in a lot of americana into the melting pot from which they’ve crafted their style.

Sadly, Nostrum Remedium is a case of more shape than substance. By this I mean that whilst the style, the sound, the arrangements, the instrumentation and the production are all pretty well done, if not a tad too researched at times, the songs themselves are a rather forgettable row. Beneath the twang, the desert-wind-beating-on-boothill-sign atmospherics, the gravelly vocals that sound like there’s all the dust from the Chisholm trail in them and the powerful boot heel rhythmics, the songs just aren’t particularly memorable or impressive. And that’s kind of a serious flaw, innit!

This is really a major bummer, because although at times a bit too thought-out in their expression, Redeye Caravan have so many good things going for them. In a nutshell, just about everything else required for a good album is in place here, but there’s this huge chunk missing in the middle. And it totally, completely prevents Nostrum Remedium from being a genuinely good album; as it is now, it’s something of a novelty album worth a few spins, but without much long-term appeal.

So, in conclusion, whilst Redeye Caravan’s debut album leaves one wanting and doesn’t manage to impress on a long-term basis, they do convince the listener of the fundamental healthiness of their core concept and sound. On Nostrum Remedium, they present a stable foundation, but the shack built on it isn’t yet quite up to snuff.

I really hope this isn’t just a one-off project, that we’ll hear more from this Greek ensemble in the future – and that they continue to build and improve upon what they have here.


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