No Coward Soul
Broodily Intriguing Americana From the Backwoods of South London.
I’ve often heard the argument that Americana (and indeed Country Music itself) can and should only be written and recorded in America, by Americans; which is exactly the same ridiculous point of view from heretics who claim ‘White men can’t sing the Blues!’
For what it’s worth much of the finest Americana music that I love comes from a romantic vision that many of us have of America from either across the USA’s Northern border or from across the Atlantic primarily in the UK.
Which brings us to No Coward Soul, a 5 piece band based in the backwoods of South London and revolving around singer Brad Schmauss who hails from Alaska.
Apparently stalwarts of the burgeoning Americana ‘scene’ in London and the South I wasn’t aware of this band until the CD arrived; but opening track the gentle hazy Lighthouse which finds Schmauss at the piano and sounding not unlike Harry Chapin fronting Granddaddy as a harmonica wails over a bittersweet ballad.
The mood then lightens and the tempo certainly picks up to a Country trot on Fireflies, with Schmauss’s voice sounding very emotional as a young lady provides very sensual harmonies in the background.
When I first played this a fortnight ago I remember, pursing my lips and nodding along to that last song and then performing air-piano on the next; Bullet, which is something I haven’t done for a long time.
That ‘far flung romanticism’ comes to the fore on several songs, especially Nighthawks which is a delightful left turn with a clever lyrical twist and L’il Mikey Mountain which takes us on a quite dark journey that I wasn’t expecting.
Because I know No Coward Soul are British or at least based here; the sound they have is not like anyone else on the scene I’m aware of; as instead of going for a West Coast Soft-Rock trip or the more fashionable Byrdsian twin guitar sound; No Coward Soul are treading their very own path in a quite arcane fashion.
This is certainly ‘Americana’ but of a more curious persuasion with sings like Orpheus and Belly of the Whale harking back to the more literate works that prevailed among 1960’s and 70’s singer-songwriters and left us scratching our heads in our teenage bedrooms.
But there is also more than a smattering of straightforward American influenced Pop-Rock with 654, Holy Toledo and probably more than everything else Death n Texas reminding me of bands like Barenaked Ladies and They Might Be Giants, as Schmauss and friends use melodies and bouncy tunes to ease you into a false sense of security but make you need to decipher the words too.
Just to be contrary I’d have preferred the short title track The Almanac to have started or closed proceedings as it’s a Film-Noir style poetic talk-over, rather than a song and would work perfectly well as an intro or exit, rather than being tucked away in the middle.
For an album that was initially difficult to ‘get into’ It’s been a joy on some recent late night drives home in the sultry midnight heat; with one song in particular capturing my attention; so the curious and Gospel tinged Gotta Believe becomes my Favourite Song.
This album won’t be for everyone as it’s a ‘grower’ and there aren’t any ‘radio hits’ to catch your attention. This is a good old fashioned Long Player that demands your full attention from start to finish; but, that said; don’t be surprised if by some quirk of fate that No Coward Soul go on to take the mantle from the likes of Coldplay or Snow Patrol; stranger things have happened!
Released 14th 2018