Opening your first album, first track with the classic one beat drum thump straight into a fast guitar lick may be generic, but it’s a surefire announcement of arrival and intent, and done as well as this lets you immediately know what’s coming. Which is essentially a melange of every US band that has ever felt a little bit country, but really wanted to stay rock’n’roll. Cave Flowers realise that re-inventing the wheel is futile, but really make it revolve gloriously in an album that is simultaneously fresh and familiar, and so enjoyable.
That it was recorded in just two days is remarkable, but explains the semi-live feel. It might be a debut album, but the band are time served. A great black and white band photo of them sitting outside, their long hair back lit, with all four in their mid-thirties(?) in double denim, perfectly reflects the sound, and could have been taken anytime in the last fifty years, a time warp that’s just right for now. Songwriter and gravel voiced falsetto singer Andy McAllister cites a Band Of Horses/ My Morning Jacket vibe, but opening track ‘Best Lonesome Friend’ is more Rolling Stones with its freewheeling groove and lazy backing vocals, just better than anything they’ve delivered in four decades.
The gem though, as in most of these tracks, is the extraordinary guitar of Henry Derek Elis, which frequently takes flight so well it leaves you grinning. With such a tight rhythm section as well this feels like a group that just needed to meet and play so they could soar. In ‘Country Fan’, McAllister is backed by keys and twang to deliver such lines as “my gut has a hole where all the drinking songs go” and “all this country music will be the death of me”, then ‘Midnight Movie’ is layered with swathes of pedal steel. The core of the album though is nearly seven-minute long ‘Upper Hand’, which reminds of Jason Isbell era Drive-By Truckers, or even Slobberbone with its epic power chords reaching to heroic soloing and back. It could easily have been twice as long, with its slow fade out hinting always leave them wanting more.
The album ends nostalgically with ‘Great Hits’ singing “won’t you play those favourites from long ago” whilst Elis goes ‘SuperFuzz Bigmuff’ – fitting as McAllister is originally from Seattle, though is deeply Cali now – followed by ‘Little Worries’, a call to arms for those “getting older, getting weirder, getting stuck in your ways”. This album is not only a gem, but everything seems right, lovely band logo, fantastic cover art, entertaining animated videos, and of course, to reiterate, those life-affirming guitar solos.