Cordovas’ fourth album is sunshine-filled, thoughtful, and gritty with touches of golden age ’70s country rock.
Cordovas frontman Joe Firstman was born a bit late to soak up the first round of rootsy Southern rock as it happened. Nevertheless the master class in americana and literature that his career has become has taken him through the back catalogues of The Allman Brothers, the Dead, Skynyrd, the Flying Burrito Brothers. These comprise a heritage he takes very seriously.
The release of ‘The Rose Of Aces’ comes almost exactly 20 years after Firstman’s first solo album and 12 years after forming Cordovas. With the brutal honesty he employs to assess his life, these milestones can’t have gone unnoticed. The band began working on these songs before 2020’s acclaimed ‘Destiny Hotel’ was even finished and continues its reflective, literary vein.
The current lineup includes his stalwart guitarist Lucca Soria and newcomers Kelsey Lepperd, who adds a deeper dimension to the already rich harmonies, Colton Stephens, and Tyler Nuffer. Producer Cory Hanson also assisted with guitar and vocals. Firstman’s longtime friend Toby Weaver is missing on the record but may well show up on a future one. That’s kind of how things work at Firstman’s Baja California, Mexico winter home, which doubles as songwriting workshop, jam session base, and informal bohemian salon.
‘The Rose Of Aces,’ named for a mythical Tarot card in honour of hotel owners in Mexico, is an offering of the sort of classic country rock for which the ’70s were Camelot. There are marijuana sunsets, campfires, beaches, endless highways, regrets, and friends swapping stories. ‘Fallen Angels of Rock ‘n’ Roll’ is a celebration as well as a eulogy for the ones you know he’s singing about and the lost ones only Firstman knows. From a slight distance from youth, he challenges the listener — and maybe himself — to remember the importance of music as a way to salvation.
Poet Mark Cline Bates contributed to the wonderful ‘High Roller,’ about a wild trip to the local low-tier casino that ends with buddy Stanley sitting the back of a squad car in blood-stained clothes “singing ‘Wild Irish Rose.'” (Everyone knows a Stanley and some of us are Stanley.) Similarly ‘Stone Cold Stoned’ is an unabashedly fun Laurel Canyon romp. On ‘Sky, Land & Sea’ and ‘Sunshine’ there is the elusive sweet spot between traditional (think CSN&Y harmonies) and new. The band’s affection for Mexico inspired the upbeat Spanish language track ‘Somos Igueles.’
With Cordovas and their consistently impressive output, think of the similarly named ’70s Chrysler Cordoba, not the shiniest new model on the car lot these days, but the comfortable one you want for a long, laid-back drive.