Milton Mapes – Westernaire

Milton Mapes

The sound of the new Milton Mapes record (Milton Mapes is a band, not a guy, it turns out), Westernaire, is closest to the pop-country of The Jayhawks, and singer Greg Vanderpool’s voice has a similar reedy quality to the old Louris-Olson harmonies. Taking away from that slightly is the heavy-handedness of some of the instrumentation, especially the drums on songs like “Some to Reap,” which have a tendency to almost drown Venderpool out in a flood of crashing cymbals. The quieter songs fare much better, allowing Vanderpool to explore his quiet higher register without so much noisy competition.
My favorite songs on this album have a nice handmade quality to them, as on “A Thousand Songs About California,” which with its lilting melody earns the Would Be a Hit Single if There Were Justice in the World title. On that song, Mapes actually sounds like an indie version of Counting Crows, proving once again that when I call anything “country” you should take it with a grain of salt. Mostly, the band explores the rich possibilities of Americana from Gram Parsons by way of post-punk, and indie rock idols like Built to Spill.
Vanderpool doesn’t mind wearing his root on his sleeve, on “Palo Duro,” even lifting a quote straight from the all-purpose oracle that is Bob Dylan: “Last night I danced with a stranger / But she just reminded me you were the one,” he sings, adding, “Someone once said that much better / I think it was Dylan but it may have been Young.” Have no fear, though, the bits of hero-worship don’t detract from the quality of this album. It’s low-key and laid back, often fun, and with the appropriate doses of crying-in-one’s-beer.