To The Dusty World
Reviewed by Dave O Rama
As with jazz, country music has walked a long road through American history. So, when I hear someone exclaiming, as I occasionally do, that they don’t like jazz or they don’t like country, I always have to ask; what kind? Music with as long a history as jazz or country cannot be considered as simply one genre, and as most of us know there are many branches on the country music tree.
So, if you really pay attention you will find many of them swirled into this inebriating concoction called To The Dusty Road. Now well seasoned after several recordings under their collective belt, Vancouver’s Real Ponchos release a gorgeous piece of work that pays homage to the country canon while conjuring the ghosts of Jimmie Rogers and Bill Monroe who get whisked away by Gram Parsons to a jam at Jerry Garcia’s place.
Composed of eight talented musicians with outside tendencies the members of Real Ponchos establish a strong foundation of roots references while constructing their house out of exotic materials. The sound is built in thick layers of rhythm dancing with shimmering strings and fluttering ambience. Bassist Michael Wagler and drummer Emlyn Scherk hold it down with solid precision while sounding more like jazz merchants spinning a prairie groove. The interaction between the three guitarists Ben Arsenault, Emile Scott, and pedal steel player Marc Jenkins is gently psychedelicized moving from breezy and delicate to majestic and even deconstructive. The guitar interplay here, for me, brings to mind images of New York art rock band Television performing at the Austin City Limits.
A song like Passing Through shows off more of the band’s jazz mind while epic tracks like Flatline Rose and Stillness take us on a languid journey, a hazy hallucinatory landscape that as much references El Topo and the Velvet Underground as Porter Wagoner and Lefty Frizzell. There’s also this delicious mix of atmospheric vocal harmonies from Arsenault and Scott who meld their rich voices with that of Marin Patenaude, while keyboardist Tyson Naylor provides beautiful subtle flourishes of emotion and colour that add even greater dimension to the aural environment. But it doesn’t end there. The eighth member of Real Ponchos, Jon Scherk, acts as the band’s sonic shaman infusing ambience and subtle organic atmospherics into the already deceptively complex musical tapestry. Earthy and dreamlike, with To The Dusty World Real Ponchos deliver a hazy Technicolor mirage that inspires kaleidoscopic visions from deep inside a mournful world.
Originally published in BC Musician Magazine