Appaloosa’s fourth full-length release presents at least two firsts for the Bend country-folk group. One, it’s the group’s first live set, recorded by Central Oregon Recording engineer Matthew Fletcher at a gig last summer in Sisters’ Fir Street Park. Two, and perhaps more significantly, it’s the first album to present bandleaders Dottie and Eli Ashley’s songs in a full band setting, with the two vocalists and guitarists accompanied by longtime bassist Steve Jensen, lead guitarist Dan Crossman, sit-in drummer Dale Largent (Moon Mountain Ramblers) and harmony vocalists Katy Yoder and Victoria Boucher.
The gradual evolution from acoustic trio to an at times quite rocking septet over the last few years came about due to the often party-hearty nature of Bend’s music scene, Dottie said. The added musicians give songs such as “Mavis” and “Lady Luck” a bite and snarl not apparent on their more stripped down, studio counterparts, while the new tracks plow forward with a classic, steady-as-a-freight-train chug.
But at its heart, Appaloosa is still about the Ashleys’ songwriting, and this album reflects a wide range of subjects and moods (enhanced by numerous song introductions scattered throughout the set). “My Buddy Vince” opens the album with a lighter number, with Dottie taking the role of starstruck musician hoping to parlay a chance meeting with Vince Gill into country-music fame. Album closer “She Likes Trucks,” sung by Eli, is in the same lighthearted vein, with the song’s narrator attempting to woo a women who only has eyes for his truck.
These moments are balanced out with darker songs such as “Hard Times” and “Momma Oh,” a meditation on broken families and lost identities resulting from the post-Civil War relocation of former slaves from New Orleans to the Northern states. “Preacher” is perhaps the most uncomfortable song to listen to, with its sunny melody juxtaposing a story about a clergyman who isn’t what he seems.
Perhaps best of all is the aforementioned “Lady Luck,” a classic gambling song with a psychedelic edge to Eli’s surreal lyrics and Crossman’s fluid guitar leads.
The full band will perform a CD release show at Silver Moon Brewing on Saturday.
Appaloosa: 8 p.m. Saturday; $5 at the door; Silver Moon Brewing, 24 NW Greenwood Ave., Bend; silvermoonbrewing.com or 541-388-8331.
— Brian McElhiney, The Bulletin