Review: The Cowboys, 'Volume Two' 

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The Cowboys
Volume Two
Self-Released

Every kid who ever formed a rock band had a moment once with a song or a record that made them think not just "I want to do that," but also "I could do that." I'm having trouble pinpointing exactly what makes The Cowboys such a great band, and their recent Volume 2 EP such a great release, but it's got something to do with how they open up a space where we don't just want to listen, we want to participate, replicate.

There's lead vocalist Keith Harman. He feels awfully lynchpin, a vocal character actor, yipping and yelping at the center of The Cowboys' whorl, exerting a surprising control over the band's sonic texture. In "Cool Beans and Godspeed" he flips from bursts of staccato in the verses to bellowing all legato in the chorus, and it props the simple song up into something much more.

The songs themselves are tightly structured, more subtle than at first they appear. "She Wants to Be French," arguably the young band's most ambitious track to date, delays the full entry of its chorus. We get a halfway hint after the first verse, but not the whole thing until much later. It's a small move, but it works to propel the song forward -- typical of the band's smart arrangements.

Guitarist Mark McWhirter's production cannot go un-shouted out either. It's simple, analog and dry, but it does that enviable thing where it captures and conveys the band's momentum with force. Hi-fi or lo-fi, that's tough to do. One imagines his skills have been honed sharp after several years of semi-mysterious prolificacy under his Dr. Ray moniker.

Guitar, bass and drums, too, could so easily slump into backseat simplicity, but they just don't, always instead injecting little moments of surprise. In particular, bassist Zackery Worcel is somehow always moving, but never too busy. Where other bassists might content themselves to eighth-note putter through verses and choruses, on tracks like "Creature from the Deep," Worcel twists and turns irrepressibly.  

Of course, starting a band because you heard some record in your parents' basement, that's as as passe as it gets, right? But it doesn't feel passe. It feels "authentic" (vomit) and "pure" (ugh) and "vital" (double ugh). But no, really: authentic, pure, vital. I don't think all my writing above gets it quite down, but somehow, and most importantly, The Cowboys are so remarkable because they slice through cynical cobwebs -- the "vomits," the "ughs" -- and deliver on something that should launch a thousand other bands.

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Taylor Peters

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