Take heart with Balto’s Strangers. It channels a feeling — once pervasive in American and British music— that time is ultimately survivable. Whether the hours are flying by or looking bleak, Balto keeps moving on and moving forward, even as the mood roams from wild revelry, to wry forbearance, to the foolproof remedy of rock-and-roll blasted at full volume. From the first volleys on Lost on the Young, with eyes on the horizon and flags against the wind, Balto winds through their sailor’s songbook for the rock era, with gorgeously carved chants of being and nothingness, delivered behind the beat with force and honed flourish. The Balto story begins six years previous, when singer and guitarist Daniel Sheron wrote the first album, October’s Road, holed up in splendid isolation in Siberia, Russia. Sheron then returned to the States, assembled a band, and has since increasingly turned from his earlier confessional tone to a rowdier gonzo embrace of musical Americana. Taking root in Portland, Oregon, Balto expanded to a four-piece with Seth Mower, Devon Hoffner, and Luke Beckel on drums, bass, and guitar (respectively), and dropped an EP, Call it by its Name. For their next full album, Balto sought a little more alchemy in the recording process itself, something approaching the legendary sessions of yesteryear, a half-party kilter, free from the confines of a typical studio setup. Recently returned from a grueling tour of Alaska’s interior, they found a farmhouse studio, located in the fields of an agricultural island in Oregon, and sojourned there for nine days— stocked with a generation of new songs, dozens of borrowed instruments, and several hundred tallboys.
The loose, bucolic setting made for fertile developments. Songs took on a backporch ease. Instrumentation got ad hoc, with a tuba loaned from a local middle school and an empty swimming pool serving as a reverb chamber. Balto wanted these atmospheres cured into the final takes— the calm and candlelight on the bewitching Star of Bethlehem; the wind and lapping downpours in the outro of Midnight; the general roughhousing as backdrop to barroom songs like Born Astray. With the opportunity to become truly lost in their work, ideas and paint flew at the walls; yet the project stayed tight and bright through the discerning production of Phillipe Bronchtein, who balanced the looseness of the sessions with gentle rigor and clarity, welcoming Sheron’s penchant for bombast while bringing the razor to things whenever necessary. Consequently, the alloyed sounds on Strangers are uncluttered and weighted perfectly to the musical arcs they tender. In the final mix (courtesy of Jeff Saltzman), every note rings out and fades away in the expanse, revealing in full Balto’s luscious and impeccable songcraft.
Likewise, the plentiful influences—Motown, Big Star, Alabama Shakes, Plastic Ono Band-era Lennon— seep in without lapsing into pastiche or overwhelming the sturdy rock-and-roll armature of the melody. Instead, it feels like a long, open-windowed trek through the dusty highways of America. This metaphor works doubly well since Strangers is all but engineered to listen to while hightailing it for a new life on another coast. From the first drop of the anthemic Lost on the Young, we hear wheels on gravel, and Balto’s dialed musical combination of thinking back and driving forward. Sparse, emotive numbers like Midnight and Star of Bethlehem, bring to mind late-night stretches, with city lights behind us and only our gnawing thoughts for company. Shots in the Dark and Restless Generation carry us along on locomotive, danceable rhythms, even as memories of former loves dispel like mists on the morning ride. As we twist the radio dial, our speakers bump could-be classics from the Seventies (like Born Astray, with its the growing vocals over Motown grooves) as well as from the Eighties (the cheeky, tightly-orchestrated CA LUV). Balto then pours out a poignant, serpentine life-tale Celebration Smile and a track, A Year Lasts a Lifetime, that showcases the band’s uncanny collaborative balance as guitar, vocals, and keys each rise in turn to the surface of the sound. The odyssey finally rounds out with the bare and heart-baring One Night Show, that leaves the listener on a note of irresolution, a fitful farewell that’s half-ready to get in the car and drive all the way back again. If so, Balto has already made their case by record’s end: good times shouldn’t wait for the bad to go away.
It’s a rare surprise to stumble across a new band and feel like you’ve known their songs your whole life. Yeses’s music has that strange, dream-like quality of feeling familiar, almost nostalgic, yet impossible to place. The Los Angeles band’s songs are the kind you fall in love with and don’t get tired of— the kind that demand your attention and reveal more with each deeper listen. The lyrics carry the weight of a road-weary kind of wisdom, of love and experience, supported by a rich musical backdrop of unforgettable melodies. Yeses makes music for music-lovers. Their debut EP is due out in the Spring.
"Old school, sad-bastard country for a new generation of excited country fans."
"The twenty-five-year-old from Cleburne, Texas, isn’t the first skinny kid to wear a cowboy hat and a pearl-snap shirt in tribute to the giants of vintage country, but he is one of just a few whose lovesick blues actually sound like they come from the heart."
-Garden & Gun Magazine
"His sweet yet melancholy lyrics feel like they were probably written on a whiskey-stained bar napkin, just the way good country songs should be."
-Wide Open Country
"Tyson channels all the woe and despair you could find in his native Texas on the album, crafting meandering and warbling ballads that harken back to the heartbreak songs of old country. You’ll find all the usual suspects of the lonely hearts club soundtrack, but Tyson’s rich vocals evoke empathy and more than a little second-hand despair.
-American Songwriter Magazine
"Tyson and his crew handle the musical reins with ease, while his lyrics leave you smelling whisky and feeling a dusty heartache. Tyson harnesses the classic sound of old-time country, but his vocal arrangements impeccably capture a new and exciting perspective, bringing almost an R&B-esque groove to the country genre.
Each song is the work of a craftsman who knows his trade, and Tyson offers a glimpse into the future of country music classics."
"There’s a pretty severe case of macho going around among the guys of mainstream country, and one of the chief symptoms is the list song that reels off every sturdy, American-made item required for dirt-road tailgating, from the truck bed to the iced-down brew. You’re far more likely to find honky-tonk sensitivity over on the indie side of country, from the guys who worship at the altar of tortured soul twang. Fort Worth transplant Cale Tyson is staking out a spot for himself right in the middle of that territory with his new steel-and-shuffles-stocked EP High on Lonesome, which features none other than Kenny Vaughan. Tyson’s songwriting has its stock barroom and bedroom scenes, too — tradition is one of country’s central ingredients, after all — but you can tell that he hears Hank Sr.’s lonesome yodeling and Gram Parsons’ rock-to-country reaching through modern ears. And boy, is his pleading, heart-on-sleeve emotionalism refreshing right about now."
"Although he hangs his hat in Nashville nowadays, Fort Worth-bred singer-songwriter Cale Tyson still carries the soul of classic Texas country music with him. His debut EP, which sounds like a dispatch from the early ‘50s, is a striking piece of work, and one which only impresses more with repeat listens. Modern country music doesn’t sound much like this, and Tyson’s willfulness is as admirable as his fidelity to his inspirations."
"You should listen to Cale Tyson because he is just as confused as you are, and his music is like a friend that doesn’t judge, but instead sits at the bar and drinks two shots for your every one."
"We know it says “no country” right there in our name but, truth be told, we’re suckers for quality, throwback country artists (it’s that overexposed, top 40 country that we think Nashville’s got more than enough of). Cale Tyson’s Nashville by way of Texas, whiskey-soaked, 1970′s golden age retro country sound is genuine enough to make us converts."
-No Country For New Nashville