In a season dominated by the cloying reek of pumpkin spice everything, Jonathan Warren & The Billygoats' latest album, Cletus (Billy Goat Productions, 2018), hits all the right notes of autumn.
The album is set to receive two launch parties—the first on Thursday, Sept. 13, at The Record Exchange, and the second on Saturday, Sept. 15, at Neurolux—just days ahead of the Saturday, Sept. 22, autumnal equinox. It's release is almost astrological, like a shooting star heralding a new, wiser and slightly sadder season.
Cletus has the penetrating lassitude of turning leaves, occupying the space between the last sunscreen application and the first shoveled driveway. In songs like "Sense of Lovely," guitar and fiddle strings lazily twang while Warren's dirt-road drawl drags through lines like, "The skies look like it might turn sunny / You're makin' eyes like you want to touch me."
Compare that to "Quite Clearly" off the band's 2013 album, On This Very Evening (Billy Goat Productions), in which Warren drones, "Staring at you, lady / Your body's precision / Your face [would] make a man / Change his religion." The key, tempo and tone of both songs, written years apart, match almost exactly.
Over the last half-decade, JWBG's impressive beards and the creaky floorboards of its favorite haunts have remained the same as ever, but some things have changed. Its songs still invoke the Idaho wilderness and worn instruments played idly by the light of a bonfire, but Cletus lays bare at least some time spent in the studio, and is more effects-driven, moody and a-melodic than JWBG's previous work. In "Done Fell Down," notes plucked on an upright piano echo off the interior walls of listeners' hearts.
For longtime JWBG fans, Cletus is full of new work with a familiar, if slightly tweaked, sound; but as the band gears up for a tour across California, Oregon and Washington later this month, it will also serve as a Pacific Northwest introduction to a distinctly Idaho group.