The Desoto Caucus are the Danish contingent of Giant Sand comprising Anders Pedersen(guitar, vocals), Peter Dombernowsky(Drums, percussion),Nikolaj Heyman (bass, keyboards) and Thøger T. Lund (guitar, vocals). They’ve basically been Howe Gelb’s sidekicks for the past ten years since Pederson, Lund and Dombernowsky first backed Howe Gelb on his solo release The Listener. When Gelb decamped to Canada to record his acclaimed gospel album Sno’ Angel the trio used the downtime to record an album under the name of The Desoto Caucus. Reconvening with Gelb, Heyman came on board the Sand line up and he now comprises the fourth part of the fully formed Caucus.
While their first release, EliteContinentalCustomClub slipped under the radar Offramp Rodeo is getting a proper release (via Glitterhouse in Europe) and certainly should be high on the listening agenda for anyone who is moved by the magisterial Gelb and his ever widening circle. While it would be unfair to categorise The Desoto Caucus as Giant Sand sound a likes there’s no doubt that these Danes have had the opportunity to marinate in Gelb’s unique sensibilities before finding inspiration for their own flight. While they have that loose limbed sense of ambling through a song, stumbling on shards of jagged guitar and tripping over unexpected sonic blips that characterises much of Gelb’s work they also find inspiration from the likes of Vic Chesnutt, Mark Linkous and Bill Callahan and manage to forge their own identity with Pedersen, who wrote all of the songs (two co written with Heyman) rising to the occasion with some fine lyrics.
Recorded in Denmark the album has a warm intimate close up feel, the percussion gently thumps and sparkles while the vocals and guitars slowly burn like the dying embers of a log fire that occasionally sparks and sputters. Live In The Stream is a strong opener with a propulsive throbbing beat and a hypnotic vocal from Pederson which manages to recall Sparklehorse and ends with a short burst of clanging guitar. OCB is the most Giant Sand like piece here as Pederson and Lund sing in very close harmony about Offbeat Circuit Breakers but the following title song is a much airier affair with pedal steel adorning a strummed guitar and Pedersen crooning like Bill Callahan from Smog. With snippets of marimba, glockenspiel and African percussion there’s a sweet undercurrent to this very pretty song. The kpanloko drum from Africa makes another appearance on the evocative Full Moon, a dreamlike affair with a great percussion track and fine supporting vocals from Sille Krill.
Fine as these selections are the band pull out all of the stops on a brace of songs that up the thrill stakes and demonstrate that this is a band and not just a side project. Despite Pedersen’s claim in his fine liner notes that they find straight forward rock songs difficult Here’s One disproves this from the start as guitars fizz and explode over a driving drum beat that is embroidered by piano, organ, glockenspiel, tubular bells and trombone ending up in an veritable Smörgåsbord of sound. Leaving Odessa is an impressionistic take on images of Texas and life on the road that flies high with some fine stratospheric pedal steel and some very impressive percussion from Dombernowsky. Firesale is another collection of lyrical impressions where the band attempt to capture the feel of being “European explorers in the new world.” The song starts off gently before building up to a cinematic wide screen sound with echoes of Morricone with muted tubular bell and softly shimmering percussion adding a faded grandeur. The short Even So slouches into view and out again briefly but it’s a fine gnarled effort showcasing Heyman’s guitar. Closing the album, Last Call just about sums the band up as Dembernowsky employs numerous percussive devices to drive the song while guitars snake in and out, snapping at the heels of Pedersen’s slow drawl on a song that would not be out of place on Jim White’s Wrong Eyed Jesus album.
Overall this is a strong collection of songs that is improved by the musical dexterity of the band as repeated listens unveil little sonic quirks and embellishments. Well recommended of course for fans of Giant Sand but well worth a listen for anyone interested in the slightly offbeat side of Americana that steers clear of Nashville and finds inspiration in the less travelled roads.