Some styles of country ditch pastoral images of whiskey-drinking and dust-covered boots in favor of more modern themes. The Ravenna Colt's debut album, Slight Spell, aims for this style but misses. Frontman Johnny Quaid weaves hand-wringing, woeful songs that share traditional blues sentiments, but lack the real punch of the genre's forebears. This is a style the former My Morning Jacket guitarist and recent Boise transplant is new to, but has apparently fallen for.
Quaid left Louisville, Ky.'s My Morning Jacket in 2004 after six years. He worked with famous frontman Jim James, aka Yim Yames, on that project, picking strings on the band's first three albums and a slew of EPs. This new take on country came with Quaid's relocation to Boise.
Quaid pulls in a cadre of other musicians to fill out Slight Spell's ancillary cries of piano, drums and slide guitar. However, the band takes second fiddle to Quaid's twanging guitar, which is reminiscent of Robert Plant's post-Zeppelin years. As his lyrics struggle to be pensive, the tracks begin to resemble comically serious late '80s ballads.
Pulling off the genre Quaid is so fond of takes panache. He knows the themes—each track revolves around stories of love or loss—but fails to capitalize on the subject matter.
The most blubbery track, "Loner in Disguise," includes the lines: "Just leave me here alone / Nothin' even wrong / Reasons are my own." The cliched lyrics do the album a disservice. And when Quaid wades knee-deep into the dramas of the West—"Lost my drawl in California," he sings on "South of Ohio"—the too-slow, meandering delivery renders the tracks lethargic.
But the album hits some traction with Quaid's speak-singing on the final track, "That Day at Point Reyes." More personal lyrics like, "That Day at Point Reyes / these feelings begun," help to weave a more comprehensive tapestry of the forlorn songwriter. Most poignant are the words "Please remember one thing / this promise is final," which he beckons to the song's implied love interest.
The Ravenna Colt moniker comes from the untamable animal described in professor Dennis Magner's late 1800s equestrian treatise. To that end, Quaid may court a stable of talented musicians, but he seems to hold the reins of the collective too tightly. Perhaps expanding the creative focus would serve The Ravenna Colt well.