Three albums and an EP into their career, Mail the Horse are grabbing the present by channelling times past on a new album of county-tinged blues rock. So used are we to viewing time as a linear, that we are conditioned to thinking that the passing of time is inextricably linked to progress. From this perspective the implication is that everything should be new, fresh and innovative. But though we live through time, we are just a bit too complex to rush forwards without hankering for the past and sometimes the metaphysical meaning in progress doesn’t fit, or even actually need to fit. Americana, rock, country, roots, psychedelic, folk enthusiasts perhaps, have a particular penchant for a more circular view of time where the appreciation is less the atomistic presence of ‘bands’ and more the re-birthing of a spirit.
With that in mind, in ride Mail the Horse with their new self-titled album. Comparisons to ‘Sticky Fingers’ era Rolling Stones lurk around every corner and it’s easy to see why – the opener ‘Gimme Gimme’ for sure stomps along with a definite Jagger swagger. The horns recollect an ‘Exile on Main Street’ era intensity while sharing the strutting soulful energy of contemporaries like Nathaniel Rateliff. Elsewhere ‘Kid Gloves’ invokes a ‘Some Girls’ swank. Is this progress? No? Is it part of the rebirthing of rock ‘n’ roll as we wake up to the fact that we are almost a fifth of the way through another century? Could be! And maybe this is what we mean by soul. Music is always a collective experience and Mail the Horse are all about sharing.
This band clearly carry on their craft because they love it. Having spent their twenties living together in a basement in Brooklyn, creeping maturity sees them spread further afield, working other businesses but re-uniting around their art. Making a living for music has never been easy. In 2016 they lost their original drummer to the Felice Brothers (surely both a tragedy and a badge of honour for the band). On this self-titled album the lyrics reflect the burdens of age. ‘Kid Gloves’ wrestles with the realisation that masculinity is a fragile thing, allied to increasingly difficult economic and social struggles (‘P-Town’). It is a record documenting the passing of time through living. It’s personal too. ‘Sweet Red Lies’ and ‘Purple Yellow Shade’ both examine the maturing, mellowing and possible waning of relationships with the self and others.
Does that sound like heady stuff? Don’t be deterred – the music is everything you would expect from a life time of influences absorbed and re-imagined. Aside from the Stones references you will find a little bit of Southside Johnny in here and ‘Purple Yellow Shade’ could come off of the country side of ‘State of Our Union’ by The Long Ryders with its prominent pedal steel. As we trot through the songs with the band we go up with straight rockers like ‘Throw Shade’, and down with the slower ‘Pitch and Haw’.
Mail the Horse is a self-produced album and maybe it sounds a little flat in places; these boys have a fearsome live reputation which the album is short of capturing. It’s a very good record, but maybe one anthem shy of a classic.