Illinois River Valley Blues
Douglas McCombs may be most well known as the bassist of experimental rock heroes Tortoise but his work with his other band Brokeback is just as good and has to be deemed underrated for sure and the bands new album Illinois River Valley Blues proves just how underrated they are and how Godlike a band they are beyond a shadow of a doubt but will hopefully gather the band some well due attention. Since the band released their last album Brokeback And The Black Rock back in 2013 (and that album was after a decade long gap from their last album showing that the musician and his compadres likes to take the time to perfect his craft when it needs it), Tortoise have released last years well received The Catastrophist and now McCombs retains his rich vein of form with this new Brokeback album.
The album starts off with the sprawling Ride Ahead And Light The Way For Me and with this vast musical vessel, the band kickstart an album that really equates to an audio journey, a broad and monumental journey and one that ends with the delightful cinematic rush of Night Falls On Chillicothe.
Highlights on Illinois River Valley Blues include the majestic On The Move And Vanishing and Cairo Levee as well as the beautifully produced Spanish Venus and Ursula but listening to the album as a whole completely from start to finish is how it has to be listened as it will take you on a journey that you won’t won’t to leave.
While the majority of the bands music is instrumental (ala Tortoise), as in their previous works there are a few choice vocal performances, this time courtesy of Amalea Tshilds who adds some multi layered vocals at choice points on the albums duration and this works extremely well. Brokeback are a much more free flowing unit than Tortoise and this comes across in the sprawling nature of the bands music and it is testament to both McCombs and the rest of his band mates that the texture and sounds on show on this album show a vision that is all of their own and also that their playing is first class.
Alongside McCombs, James Elkington, who played drums on the bands previous album switches over to guitar and the results are electrifying and comparisons to Television are rightly justified and the rest of the band are on top form as well especially the crescendo of penultimate track The Strollers Memorial.
With Illinois River Valley Blues, Brokeback have created an epic album that will transport you across the glorious lands of America in a spirited fashion and the music is so expansive and real, it will make you feel like you are right there and will make you feel hopeful that the real America is as magical as it seems on this album despite the dubious political shenanigans that are unfolding at the moment. If there was an album to make you forget all that, it is definitely Illinois River Valley Blues.
Words: Gavin Brown