The Western Life
Cowboys and Indians
The points of reference are easily identifiable for the casual historian: Bob Wills, Milton Brown, Louis Jordan, Count Basie, even some Gene Vincent for rockabilly spice. But Cowboys and Indians, among the best bands in town, aren't some knock-off artifact, their music not mere recreation for nostalgia's sake.
To listen to Cowboys and Indians is to hear young men creating a new music from an old one by keeping the verities intact, almost attacking Western swing from the ass end. They're a jump-blues band that hangs out in the honky-tonk as opposed to a country band slumming it in the jazz joints.
Cowboys and Indians are the smallest of big bands, a jumpin' brass section (trombone, trumpet, sax) nestled against Billy King's dynamic guitar playing that's equal parts Duane Eddy and Eldon Shamblin. It's border and romantic like Marty Robbins ("Santa Elena Canyon"), huge and slick like Basie ("Fifth Avenue Stomp"), revisionist and purist all at once (it's shocking to discover that only one song, the Bob Wills standard "I'm a Ding Dong Daddy," is a cover, everything else sounding so classic and brand-new). And to top it off, the band's fronted by a man as big as Texas itself--Erik Swanson, who exudes so much stage presence and cool he swaggers even when playing the trombone.
In, in damned Spot
The loud guitar, piercing and chugging along, only momentarily hides the inescapable fact: Spot--the power trio that's really a duo, Chad and Reggie Rueffer--picks up where the brothers left off with the implosion of Mildred three years back. Same abstract and literate poetics, same catchy melodies, same bouncy beat, same vocals that recall XTC from a distance--little changed, yet somehow quite different.
If, as Reggie Rueffer said last June, Spot provides him an opportunity "to rock," then it succeeds. Unlike Mildred, a band that took itself seriously working within a form that shouldn't, Spot gets by on a series of deliberate hooks and raunchy riffs, indelible melodies and poppy beats and wordy lyrics that probably need to be read to be fully understood and appreciated.
Like the best new-wave power-pop of the early 1980s, which Spot recalls fondly, these are songs that aren't meant to transport you somewhere else; rather, their intention, it seems, is to make you seem happy where you are right now, so immediate is their impact. It's artful pop music that sends your foot tapping, but not necessarily your heart racing.