The first thing I came to think about when I heard this CD – guilty pleasures. I mean, we all have them, right? Some people has more, some less and it doesn’t matter if you’re not ashamed of it, it’s still your guilty pleasure. I know I have some. Romantic comedies are one, country music is another. Ok, real stripped down country is something I can’t stand, but when mixed with rock or / and pop and the songs are good enough, there’s a soft spot for the stuff in my musical heart. The fact that I really don’t like country, but still do kinda make me cringe a bit, but hey, I’m all for candour so I can might as well admit it. On the other hand, there’s quite some credibility in liking Steve Earle and the sorts, so I guess the laugh might not end up on me anyway. Why I bring this subject up to the surface in this review is because country is a big ingredient in The Northern Cowboys’ music – their name might have given that away some. This four track E.P. is the first sign of life from this band – or duo might be the proper description – that came to life back in 2013 and is the brainchild of guitarist Andy Zata, who also handles bass duties here and lead singer Jake Lindholm. This is more of a side project, I take it, as Zata is also the lead gun slinger in Swedish melodic hard rockers Crazy Lixx – then by the last name Dawson which he has dropped from now on – which are on their way with their fourth album, up for release later this year. The drums are beaten by one Louisian Boltner who has joined the group permanently. Now this is just a E.P. and I have a problem with those. Four songs is just a teaser, like getting a taste of the frying oil when you’re hungry as hell and you keep looking at the steak. Well, not much to do about it but to listen, because this seems like a real interesting piece of work.
Not to put Crazy Lixx down by any means, but they aren’t exactly known for their originality, they wear their influences very visible on their sleeves, nothing wrong with that – I’m one of those who believes that originality is totally overrated – as long as there are great songs involved I couldn’t give a flying fklmbgdk about originality and as Lixx have just that, they’re a great band. But the fact that Zata composes more or less all of Lixx’ tunes together with singer Danny Rexon, I’m quite thrilled to find out where he will go with this outfit. I mean, country and hard rock isn’t exactly the same deal. The first song “There’s An Angel Next To Me” leaves me mute with a hanging jaw. Why? Well, because it’s a monster of a song. It’s damn incredible! And the hard rock isn’t that far away that one might think. The country is present, of course, but the song bursts out some fine hard rock guitars and the riffs comes really close to metal – and the mix is fantastic. The song has a groove, it’s catchy as a STD and to me, this is a total hit. After a knock out like that, it’s only down hill from there, right? Wrong! “You Just Can’t Have It All” is more mellow with more country influences, but the heavy riffing stays and the melody hooks are just terrific. Hit no. 2. If you hate power ballads and you hate country you can might as well skip “Would You Love Me” because it is a country power ballad. Now, I’m a sucker for a great power ballad but this is the first time I hear a country one. Does it work? You bet your ass it does! It’s so perfectly cheesy – in a good way – and the chorus must be made of glue because it just won’t leave your brain after one listen. Hit no 3. The fourth and last song “It’s A Long Way Down” is the song with most country on the album, it’s actually more or less pure country, where the other songs are more rock with country influences, this one is country with rock influences. Any good then? Hell yeah! It’s a groovy piece and its cathiness is contagious. Hit no 4? Well, it’s not as direct as the other three, but hell, why not. It’s catchy enough, anyway.
I had a feeling that this would be a good record, but this good I really couldn’t have imagined. I’ve lost count on how many times I have played this album and there is nothing that points at me getting bored with it. Andy Zata has also done a great job production wise. The album sounds both big and fat and still stripped and raw at the same time with the dynamics very present. This album is interesting also because of Zata’s guitar playing. In Crazy Lixx he’s the virtuoso – he’s one of the most interesting and brilliant players that has emerged in some years – but on an album like this, a virtuoso is hardly needed. That’s why it feels great to hear Zata just twanging along and not overdoing anything even though there are traces of his day job here and there. Singer Jake Lindholm is also a find, to say the least. When I heard the album first, I had no idea that the guy is only in his early twenties, 22 if I’m not totally off the wall, but he sounds like a 37-year-old Texas native who has done nothing but singing country his whole life. The guy’s English is also impressive. At least these ears can’t hear an accent anywhere. Thumbs Up! Now, I need to state that the high rating for this album is only for four songs and that is NOT the same thing as a top score on a full album. Part of me wants to just slag this off because it pisses me off when people write such killer tunes and leave me drooling for more. They make me smell the damn steak, they even show it to me and makes me have a little bit and then pulls out the rug under my feet. But it’s impossible to slag this off, this is too f-ing awesome. Hopefully they can keep the quality and put out a subsequent album soon. Til then, I can only say. YIIIIHAAAA!!!!
Jon Wilmenius (10/10)
1. There’s An Angel Next To Me
2. You Just Can’t Have It All
3. Would You Love Me
4. It’s A Long Way Down