Mars Arizona is a state of mind as opposed to an actual place and is occupied by this duo comprised of Paul Knowles and Nicole Storto. Their fourth album, High Desert, on Big Barn Records, is a fine slice of harmonic country rock. Previous releases have featured the likes of Al Perkins and David Grisman which might give a clue as to where this pair hail from musically. There are distorted fuzzy guitars and harmonies straight from the CSN&Y songbook. This is most evident on “Can we Turn this Page” which starts off with some snatched archived newspeak on anti Vietnam demos before launching into what is basically a protest song straight from the sixties. With cover versions of songs from that period including the stones’ “Sweet Virginia” and the Dead’s “Must have Been the Roses” there is a comfortable wallowing feeling for anyone who was around in those days. However with songs like the opener “Glad To Be Here” with its triumphant pedal steel sound and the John Prine like “Alabama Bound” there is plenty here to catch the ear of anyone looking to get a fix of some finely delivered country rock.
In a similar time warp are Arizona crew Prophet and The Cowboys of Apocalypse who have a predominately acoustic epic sound that recalls the desert soundscape captured in Zabriskie Point all those years ago on their album The Edge. Mainman “Prophet” is a veteran of US metal band St. Madness but here he trips out on his admiration for the edgier side of country. Songs like “The Edge” are like Morricone mixed with early Hawkwind, believe it or not. A dramatic telling with Spanish guitar curlicues and lonesome harmonica give this song a spooky, er, edge. Prophet is not above some shitkicking however and “BBQ” is a turbo charged country romp with guitar that could be from the likes of Warner E Hodges while “High As Hell” is downright mean. “Goodnight Angel” is the star here, a song that one could imagine mark Lanegan covering. Guitars ripple while Prophet growls as if Roky Erickson had crawled from the desert. Kind of weird, king of Gothic but if anyone wonders what Lemmy might have sounded like if he came from Death Valley instead of Ladbroke Grove here’s a chance to find out.
Winter are a Swedish band fronted by the eponymous Anna-Lena Winter who writes some cracking songs and delivers them with a classic vocal style. Their last album, Ten Songs, got great reviews and they should repeat the trick here. The songs are radio friendly Americana rock in the vein of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers with fizzing guitars and swirling keyboard. A song such as “Crazy” is a hit waiting to be heard, gutsy and bold. While Winter can evoke the smoky drawl of Lucinda Williams (on Run) she can also be precociously seductive as on the lazily swung “Real Gone.” Guitarist Fredrik Lidkin plays heroically throughout but the drumming of Abbe Abrahamsson must get a mention also. His playing on the hypnotic wash of “A Minute Away” is a delight. Best song here however is “Book of Love” which is a perfect little song about the trials and tribulations of love where the band excel.
The Orbitsuns from Detroit are a down and dirty country punk band with a fine line in songs about boozing and other nefarious deeds. They look and sound like the type of band in a Hollywood movie playing to the baddest bunch of mean muthas but who turn out to be even badder. With a sound ranging from the propulsive drive one associates with Los Lobos to some wild r’n’b inspired country picking this lot look and sound mean. “Trains” and “Boozehound” are the songs that most resemble Los Lobos with the guitars slicing across a great drum sound on a pair of songs that are no slouches. “Who You Looking Pretty For Today” evokes the spirit of Doug Sahm with Spanish guitar and an inspired groove while “Church on Sunday” is a honky tonkin’ romp through the old hell raisin’ church going dichotomy that has inspired many a great song. Coming to the UK in July it’s a pity there are no Scottish gigs that I can see however the band have some fine videos on their website that whet the thirst for what one would presume to be a great live experience. The album might be a poor second to seeing them but you could string a net up between you and the hi-fi and then throw bottles at it while it’s playing.