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Thrift Store Cowboys shows potential in country tunes

Nov. 16, 2010

By Chris Day

Alternative country outfit Thrift Store Cowboys presents "Light Fighter," an album filled with soulful melodies and songs that intriguingly straddle a line between generic genre music and original thought-provoking material.

Lyrically, this album is excellent. The band writes lyrics that conjure up emotions such as nostalgia and regret and the music and melodies convey that perfectly.

Vocally, the album is very hit or miss. The female vocals are impeccable, but unfortunately the majority of the songs are led by vocalist Daniel Fluitt. His sound is decent, but it is pitchy and he has little range. This album would have benefited greatly from more vocal expertise as many of the high notes (which aren't that high to begin with) are flat and he sounds very uncomfortable. The range at which he sings comfortably consists of one octave or less. His limited vocal capability prevents several of the songs from achieving their full potential.

Fiddler and vocalist Amanda "Pearl" Shires, however, is never anything short of excellent. Her pitch is much more precise and she uses lots of natural vocal inflections that remind the listener that this is a real band with heart and soul, not a pitch-corrected band that post-produces its way to a quality album.

Shires tone is warm and her melodies ooze with soul. The only downside is that the vibrato she uses at times can sound a little exaggerated. Her songs make up the highlights of the album.

The main upside of this record is that it sticks to a country sound with banjos and lap steel guitars, but it manages to have a slightly experimental edge to it. The melodies, for the most part, are original, as are the chord progressions and the arrangements.

The track "7's and 9's" features an ambient intro with a reverse delay effect that does not quite succeed at transitioning into the verse (which is excellent), but it goes to show what kind of band this is: a band that loves country music almost as much as it loves originality.

Musically this track is very quirky. It features a very distinct two-step flavored banjo picking pattern that is played by itself at first and is followed by several instruments that accompany it perfectly. Shires' fiddling on this song is particularly enjoyable. The arrangement is also unconventional and the payoff for that aesthetic decision is huge.

That being said, if you do not have the energy to listen to this record all the way through, then check out the title track, "Light Fighter." Shires handles the vocals on this one and it is a flawless piece of music. With a waltz-flavored banjo riff that makes the verse and beautiful harmonies among a swirl of instruments for the chorus, this song will roll around in your head for a while.

Thrift Store Cowboys is a group that strives to write country music that has not been written before. With some songs having an experimental edge to them and others being more generic, you get the feeling that this band is either hesitant to fully put itself out there, or content to straddle the line between cutting-edge music and marketable country.

Regardless, "Light Fighter" is an engaging listen, albeit not as engaging as it could have been. It is, however, undisputedly intriguing enough to prove that this band has the potential to set its particular scene on fire if it only chooses to write such a record.

Grade: B+