Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Steven Casper & Cowboy Angst: “I Feel Like I’ve Got Snakes In My Head” (2016) CD Review

In the fall of 2014, Steven Casper & Cowboy Angst released an EP titled Endless Sky. At that time, I was mostly excited to hear it because of John McDuffie’s presence. I’ve always enjoyed his pedal and lap steel work (as well as his guitar playing), no matter what group he’s sitting in with. But it certainly didn’t take long for me to become a fan of the whole group, which includes Steven Casper on lead vocals and guitar; Herb Deitelbaum on bass and back vocals; Jay Nowac on drums; and Carl Byon on piano, accordion, organ and other assorted instruments. Now Steven Casper & Cowboy Angst have a new EP out. Titled I Feel Like I’ve Got Snakes In My Head (and yes, I totally dig the title), it features six new tunes written by Steven Casper. Like Endless Sky, the new CD was produced by Ira Ingber, who also adds some guitar, bass, percussion and backing vocals.

The CD opens with “For A Few Dollars Less,” an instrumental track, its title being a play on the title of the 1965 Sergio Leone film For A Few Dollars More, the sequel to A Fistful Of Dollars. And it feels like part of a soundtrack to a wonderful new western, a movie where things are going to go delightfully wrong, and where the hero isn’t a completely laudable and virtuous character. It’s followed by “Driving Fast,” which is more of a rockin’ tune, with a bluesy edge. This is one I’m going to add to my road trip play list, with lines like “I got no good reason why/Just want to know what it’s like to fly/The engine’s kicked in overdrive/And I’m driving fast tonight.” Plus, it just has that road vibe, and it’s going to be hard to stay off the accelerator during that instrumental section, with great work on both guitar and keys. By the way, this is the song that gives the CD its title in the lines, “The empty road stretches out ahead/Lord, I hope I don’t wind up dead/I feel like I’ve got snakes in head.” There is a second version of this song included at the end as a bonus track. This version has a slightly mellower, more acoustic feel, and features good work on accordion. Both versions are good, but yeah, as the title of the second version suggests, this one feels more like a late-night tune.

“Restless Heart” has something of a sweeter, passionate pop sound. “But there’s something in your eyes/Something I recognize/Won’t you help me still this restless heart.” That’s followed by “She’s Bad,” a tune that is great fun in its style, energy and attitude. “She might look like an angel/But she’s bad, bad, bad, bad, bad.” Oh yes! On this track, they are joined by Charity McCrary and Linda McCrary Fisher on backing vocals. (They had also joined the band for one track on Endless Sky.) “Some say they saw her working at a rundown bikers’ bar/Some say she killed a man for taking things too far/Some say you can hear her laugh on the empty highway wind/They all say if you hear her knock, you’d better not let her in/Because she’s bad.”

“Maria” is also fun, but with a totally different vibe. It has a happy, Mexican sound, and is something of an innocent love song. “I love your long black hair/You’ve got the prettiest brown eyes anywhere/Maria, you make me stop and stare/Maria, come out tonight.” And I like these lines: “Some people say I’m full of shit/Don’t believe a single word of it/I just get misunderstood/’Cause bad things happen when I’m trying to be good/Some say I got the devil in me/But you’re the angel that’ll set me free.” And then “Slow Dancing” has something of a sweet, nostalgic feel. Sharon Bautista provides harmony vocals on this track. “I see you smile as you move close/I feel your body through your clothes/As we go slow dancing tonight.”

CD Track List
  1. For A Few Dollars Less
  2. Driving Fast
  3. Restless Heart
  4. She’s Bad
  5. Maria
  6. Slow Dancing
  7. Driving Fast (4 A.M.) 
I Feel Like I’ve Got Snakes In My Head was released on March 10, 2016.

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