One of my favorite things in the world is when a band I don't know (or maybe I know them in name only which was the case here) gets up on stage, rocks my world and "forces" me to go buy their new record. This was the case with These United States...except I bought the new record and one from their back catalog.
I've seen Willie Nelson live six times now. In the five previous shows there was the one where Willie went on first (playing with Mellencamp and Dylan, still not sure why he went on first?!?) and the other four featured completely lackluster and unimpressive openers. Until now. My wife and I accidentally got there early and decided to grab a Coke and our seats and settle in for the long haul. I'm now convinced it was the Universe doing us a solid and allowing us to catch These United States. Playing what was a Willie-requested stripped down pseudo-acoustic set These United States gave a half hour performance that packed in more exceptional songwriting than a lot of bands could produce in twice the time. So needless to say, being the music collector I am, I made a B-line for their merch table after the show.
These United States is the self-titled fifth album from this band of shaggy-haired troubadours. One thing I love about the whole Americana/alt-country/indie folk scene is the ability for certain artists to really get me thinking about life, love, the places I've been, the places I want to go - for me it's true deep contemplation for the music-loving soul. These United States, both the band and the album, accomplished that with just one listen. This band absolutely knows how to paint a picture with words and musical notes, telling stories that maybe no one actually lived, but everyone can relate to.
They warned all of us on the Shubert Theater stage that night that the stripped down set we were being treated to was not indicative of their normal sound on album or stage. It's true. Their sound often combines the jangly guitars and song structures you'd find on "indie rock" records with the alt country essence established by bands like Son Volt for example. (Although I have to say that tracks like "Let the River In" sound fantatsic both on record and in the stripped-down version.) It's country enough for the flannel and boot wearing crowd but with tracks like "Born Young" it's indie enough for the Vampire Weekend loving hipsters to dig it. Fans of everyone from Band of Horses to The Avett Brothers to Fleet Foxes to Bon Iver will absolutely find something to like about this album and this band. When I'm asked again at the end of this calendar year to put together one of those fancy "Best of" lists I'm pretty positive that this album is going to wind up on it.