Horse Fuel Records, 2011
REVIEW BY: Josh Allen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/16/2012
Comanchero call themselves pioneers of “cactus rock,” a curious but accurate stage name for their own blend of Americana and Southern country rock. Based somewhat unexpectedly from Boston, MA, Comanchero earned a solid slot within the jam band musicscape with their third album, The Undeserved.
Even for those who have never previously encountered a Comanchero composition, most tracks on The Undeserved will still strike the listener with familiarity time and again. This phenomenon stems from its ability to borrow and blend influences from multiple genres: Allman Brothers-esque Southern rock, Americana à la Wilco, and even sprinkles of ska and funk here and there. The beauty of the album, however, is that it accomplishes all of this in a genuine, non-pretentious manner; you never feel like the album is overreaching unnecessarily to cover territory that it shouldn't.
Opener “Jimmy Carter” is a great example of a song that you would swear you've heard before, but you surely haven't. Right away, catchy, upbeat hooks featuring vocal harmonies reel in the listener and refuse to let go. These harmonies dominate the majority of the album and compliment the equally complex and textured instrumentation throughout. By contrast, “One Foot In The Grave” starts modestly with a single strumming guitar, but it quickly blossoms into an upbeat, old school country song that would make Waylon Jennings proud, complete with a train-mimicking rhythm and perfectly placed fiddle accents. Comanchero then mutates yet again with “Fall In Line, which adopts chill, ska-influenced rhythms to create a lightly funky atmosphere.
A pair of ballads devoted to alcohol composes the apex of the album. “The Other Side Of Town” is an oddity that opens as you might expect, with the lyrics recounting the recent events of a man down on his luck, followed by a clumsy but undeniably catchy hook as the band proclaims, “On the other side of town / Big, pink elephants dance around / When you're drinkin' on the other side of town.” The song then stumbles into a jazzy, farcical jam with cameos from clarinets, trombones, and even a slide whistle.
Next, “Whiskey” opens with a blues rock motif and a harmonica that's starved for attention, much like an old Blues Traveler song. It then evolves into a ridiculously catchy chorus highlighted again by those same raucous vocal harmonies, ruing the unwanted results of excessive amounts of the song's namesake: “In the morning, I see the truth / It's a losing proposition to blow your mind out on the hooch.”
After a stellar start, The Undeserved languishes a bit near the bottom half of the album. Weaker tracks like quirky closer “Undeserved” and “Hard To Breathe,” which grinds through a repetitive and hypnotizing chorus, hamper the album's upbeat pace. “Red” grows on you, though, as it juggles somber-toned interludes with that same uber-catchy harmony-heavy chorus so prominently scattered through the rest of the album.
On the whole, though, Comanchero mostly strikes gold with The Undeserved, jumping from one genre to the next, keeping fresh, foot-stomping material flowing through your speakers for a good, long while. I'm still not 100% sure what “cactus rock” means, but I'm convinced I'd like to hear more of it.