Jesse Tabish “Cowboy Ballads Part 1”

Play It Again Sam Records, 2022

Lush production and cinematic arrangements.

Yet another album conceived and recorded during a pandemic lockdown. Jesse Tabish is the frontman for Oklahoma band, Other Lives, but on this album, working with his wife, Kim (also a member of Other Lives), he sets out to produce an album that Tabish himself describes as “more physical and primal with the music” having returned to writing on instruments rather than working with computer assistance. This is, apparently, considerably scaled back from the computer and electronics used to fashion his band’s last album and is designed to be epic and cinematic, in keeping with the band’s musical vision, but have “a rawer edge that reflects its home-made origins”.

If you’re aware of Other Lives’ music you’ll be familiar with their extensive, lush style of layered sound which is, most certainly, epic and cinematic. So have Jesse and Kim Tabish succeeded in producing an album that reflects that approach but offers a “rawer edge”. Well, not on the evidence of lead single, ‘Castro’, which is every bit as lush and heavily layered as some of the band’s work, though the vocal seems a little more to the fore, which changes the dynamic slightly.

Tabish has said that he’s always had an affinity for old Westerns and he’s clearly ingested a lot of that Western soundtrack influence from the likes of Morricone but mixed with the sort of storytelling that might be more linked with the title song from a fifties Western classic. It does make for some very interesting tracks on the album, particularly ‘Keep You Right’, which comes across a little like the bastard son of the theme from “Once Upon A Time in the West”, and ‘Da Da’, possibly the strongest cut on the album, which has a dry, dusty feel that evokes the classic Arizona skyline with rocky outcrops and saguaro cacti. ‘Price In Full’ has a little more space in the production but you wouldn’t describe it as sparse or stripped back. All the tracks are quite heavily layered and while the sound is good and the songs are very listenable in isolation, it seems likely that some might find an entire album of this sort of sound quite hard to take.

Perhaps the problem this music faces is that it does come across as being a little too much like a soundtrack album. The songs sound like you need to see a widescreen behind them and wagons rolling across the plains. That’s not a criticism, as such, but you might find yourself wondering if that’s really where Tabish’s ambitions ultimately lie – is he (and wife Kim, who has contributed to the songwriting here) a singer/songwriter or someone with an eye on writing for the screen in the long run. Again, it doesn’t really matter but, at some point, you feel he needs to do something that moves outside of the box that he has painted himself into, and which is not uncommon with band leaders who release solo albums – is it really different enough to stand away from the work of the band Other Lives?

There is, perhaps, a little more of a rougher edge to this album because of the home recording techniques employed but it really can’t be said to be that much of a departure from Other Lives’ established sound. Of course, the plus side of this is that fans of the band will be equally attracted to Tabish’s solo album, though whether it will win new converts to his work will be interesting to see. What is genuinely impressive is that music on this scale can be produced using home recording techniques and Jesse and Kim are both to be congratulated for the scale of their vision and the ability to realise it under such restricting conditions.

There are a lot of good songs here and Tabish himself is very listenable . It’s a very well produced album, particularly so in the circumstances. The downside is that it won’t appeal to everyone; if you like your music simple and stripped back this is definitely not for you, but for those that like a full sound and songs you can drown in it’s hard to imagine that this could be bettered, other than by the full band, perhaps.


About Rick Bayles 354 Articles
Now living the life of a political émigré in rural France and dreaming of the day I'll be able to sing those Cajun lyrics with an authentic accent!
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