Honky tonks, midnight angels, truck stops, neon signs and bourbon loom large on this promising debut album – classic country but with a dark, cinematic edge.
‘Suburban Cowboy’, the debut album by Oregon singer-songwriter, Nick Gamer, was written during the peak of 2020’s West Coast wildfire season.
On first song, ‘Pale Horse’ – an anthemic and atmospheric, late-night country ballad, with pedal steel, where he’s “roaming the streets, after the bars close, with no place to go”, Gamer references the fires in the lyric: “watching the flames go higher.” It’s a haunting and arresting start to the record – his vocal is fragile, wavering and pleading.
The ghost of Gram Parsons hangs over the barstool prayer ‘Midnight Angel’, as well as the pedal steel and fiddle-laced trad country of ‘Ballad of the Suburban Cowboy’: “Nine times out of 10 I fall through the cracks, like cigarette ashes…” You can bet those ashes will be swept out in the morning.
There are up-beat moments too, musically if not always lyrically. ‘Riverbed’ is a raw and dark rocker, with thundering, doomy bass, and the widescreen ‘Sedona’, which is about driving all night through the Arizona desert – “It’s midnight at a truck stop… ooh my eyes are bloodshot” – has shades of Springsteen and Jason Isbell.
The stripped-down and intimate ‘Any Neon Sign’ starts with the noise of a train, and recalls early Ryan Adams, as does the mid-paced country rocker, ‘Tennessee’: “We drank our way from Memphis down to New Orleans – got kicked out of every honky tonk in-between.”
Set in a world of midnight truck stops and neon signs, ‘Suburban Cowboy’ is a strong debut album that raises a glass to classic americana and country, but every so often, Gamer slips in a shot of something extra that gives it a dark edge and keeps it fresh, like on ‘Cenote Saloon’, which is spacey, cinematic and psychedelic, with wonderful Lynchian twangy guitar, or the short, vaguely jazzy instrumental, Sidereal.
Lurking underneath all the sadness, there is a sense of hope, but, essentially, this is a record that’s best listened to just after closing time, when you’re three sheets to the wind and thinking about wending your way back to an empty motel room.
As Gamer sings on ‘Ballad of the Suburban Cowboy’: “You can find me at a tavern, chasin’ bourbon with beer/ In some strip mall sprawl at the edge of the western frontier…”