Andrea Van Cleef (and the Black Jack Conspiracy) “Horse Latitudes”

Rivertale (IT), 2024

A prevailing Southern Gothic feel.

Andrea Van Cleef "Horse Latitudes" album art.In May of 2022, Italian singer-songwriter Andea Van Cleef supported The White Buffalo at his Milan show. Listening to ‘Horse Latitudes’ suggests Jake Smith had a lasting affect on Van Cleef. Although he’s Italian, Van Cleef writes and sings in English and he also has a distinct deep timbre. At the end of that year, Van Cleef had crossed continents and was found in Texas, shaping these tracks at Rick Del Castillo’s Smilin’ Castle Productions Studio. Inspiration came from sources such as totemic imagery, the Old Testament and Western cinematography. According to legend, the horse latitude term comes from ships sailing to the New World. Calm winds, sunny skies and little precipitation meant ships became stalled for days or even weeks. While listening to the more gothic tracks on this album, it is easy to visualise a ship becalmed, holding a dehydrated crew with minds beginning to alter, praying for a wind.

First single, ‘A Horse Named Cain’ introduces Van Cleef’s deep, deep voice. “I’m gonna ride thru the desert/ on a horse named Cain.” It’s almost a testament to Cash’s later material. “And black is the colour of my true love’s heart/ And black is the sound of heaven falling apart.” ‘Arrows’ has a fair amount of old testament imagery such as snakes from the desert and prophets from their mountains, the resonator and fiddle working splendidly together. Both tracks are intentionally moody and conjure up the image of another horse in a frontier town, running through the opening credits of ‘Deadwood’.

Things get breezier with ‘The Longest Song’. A driving bass line and the fiddle create a sound comparable to The Dead South. ‘Fire in My Bones’ could almost be a folk-bluegrass track too. ‘Love is Lonely’, is a duet that wouldn’t sound out of place on a My Darling Clementine setlist. Throughout ‘Thing’ there’s a clever doo-wop repeated after the line, “I don’t mean a thing”. And there’s a playful cover of The Faces “Ooh La La” that has the right amount of nostalgia and originality, with some great impromptu piano and mandolin playing. Even Van Cleef’s singing seems more light-hearted on these tracks.

But the mystery and eeriness returns with the closing tracks. ‘Come Home’ is yet another cinematic offering: “These bars and clubs are a life sentence/ stained sheets in broken beds/ strangers talking ‘bout the weather/ this town is crazy, no one cares.” The magnificently named ‘Slaughter Creek’ is hard to decipher while ‘Disappearing Child‘ is another duet sung with Ottavia Brown, that Matty Groves would be proud to call his own. A little bizarrely the album concludes with ‘The Real Stranger’. Some fine bass leads on to a seven-minute journey through a smooth, jazz-infused track, saxophonist Dana Colley playing us out.

A return to Italy saw Van Clef finalise the tracks at Buca Recording Studio in Montichiari. The supporting Blackjack musicians and singers on both continents conspire to make these tracks stand out, along with Van Cleef’s distinct voice. This music definitely swirls across an Americana landscape but deciphering some of Van Cleef’s lyrics can sometimes be a challenge. Perhaps you don’t need to.

7/10
7/10

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