With a female lead and high tenor harmonies, Pharis and Jason Romero are the embodiment of all that is wonderful about timeless country music. Although this album is a year old, it’s well worth covering on this site. This is the kind of music that deserves applause. It’s authentic, fun, reflective of deep cultural traditions, and has a palpable joy embedded in the music itself. This is a must-listen album for fans of roots country music.
The opener “Sad Old Song” comes before the title track. With a dangerously-complicated melody line, it shows off the very capable vocal chops of Pharis Romero. The harmonies, from Jason, fill the sound and give the song real texture. All the while these traditional vocals layer over top of wonderfully pleasing string work through, in this track, two guitars. Although the song has a sad affect to it, the joy in the strings feels as though it’s a musical coping mechanism for the raw emotions of, well, trying to perform raw emotions when they sometimes seem to kill the room. It’s a great concept and well handled.
The title track “Long Gone Out West Blues” is the defining track from this excellent Canadian duo. Not only does it show off their delightful male-female vocal harmonies, it also has a complexity in the string parts that keeps it exciting. It’s an adventurous track exhibiting the promise of traveling west, all with the heavy heart (blues) of that journey. It also strikes me that it’s a metaphorical glimpse into taking a risk (perhaps in a new relationship?) on something with incredible potential, but that might also not work. “Wild Bill Jones” introduces listeners to the banjo and Jason on lead. It’s quintessential roots country music right here. The banjo runs sound almost effortless. The harmonies are just perfect. This is the kind of song that’s meant to be performed at the Ryman Auditorium. It’s an incredible song about complicated relationships, loneliness, and justice. The comfortable narrative style is truly timeless and it all comes together in a beautiful track. (If I had gotten to this last year, it would have been a song of the year nominee. It’s that good.)
The track “Lost Lula” has a soothing quality to it, even when it explores some intriguing minor chord turns. As the finger picking runs up and down the scales, listeners are ushered into a sort of soft and somber place. It strikes me as the kind of music that could pass as worshipful. It’s both old fashioned in connecting with deep Celtic styles, yet feels very new with layers of unique runs. Although a break from the harmonies I love so much on the other tracks, it is nevertheless a befitting addition to the album.
“The Little Things are the Hardest in the End” is the purest country song on the album. Acoustic guitars, female lead, and a story about hard times. What’s remarkable about it, though, is that it can do those things without feeling cliché. Rather, it’s wonderfully rich. When the male harmonies come in, they punctuate the raw emotion of a soft, sweet song. And, well, many of us can relate to how the little things are the hardest in the end. “I’m falling, drowning, dying down here now…” It’s about the struggle of life on the margins, with a partner that doesn’t help, but kind of relishing the struggle. It’s pretty incredible in its complicated assessment of hard life.
“Come on Home” captures the emotion of a longing loved one with a traditional lament song structure. The following “Truck Driver’s Blues” is probably not meant to be the response, but it could be. Maybe he’s out driving, which is why she wants him to come home. But the truck driver’s lament is very believable. It’s sure to be a hit in the best honky tonks across the country. “Ride on into town… there’s a honky tonk gal a-waiting and I’ve got troubles to drown.” It’s really a great raw country song sure to win over a lot of fans.
“Waiting for the Evening Mail” is one of the most complicated songs on the album. It sounds like it’s got a bit of old time jazz influence in it. Harkening the 1920s more than the mid-century feeling from the rest of the album, the Joplin-esque cut time meander really makes the track work. Oh and lyrically it fits the era too. It’s about a guy in jail writing a letter to his girl, asking her to bail him out. The dust, the uncomfortableness of the jail is evident throughout the song. It’s really a remarkable adventure in song and a rare treat in the contemporary music world.
The “Lonely Home Blues” are full of life and energy. “I got the lonely home blues on top of the hill…” There’s a genuine sense of isolation and absence in this song. It’s about a woman who misses her man. “I’m awaitin’ on my baby and I can’t stand still.” It’s about love, longing, and coping with loneliness. While the themes don’t feel particularly deep at first blush, this has to be an infinitely relatable song, particularly considering the era that it reflects. Implicit in the lyrics, she wonders what her man is doing out without her.
The final track is a gospel tune, “Across the bridge there’s no more sorrow… across the bridge there’s no more pain… and we’ll never be unhappy again.” Conveying both scripture and long-standing Christian teachings, it’s the epitome of a gospel traditional. The harmonies on this track are incredible and it’s sure to be a hit at festivals across the Bible belt. It’s also an intriguing way to end an album so clearly influenced by gospel throughout, but only so vivid in its final track.
So in case it’s not evident by now, this is a must-own album for fans of roots country music. These two musicians really have a gift for capturing the essence of an art form. It’s not every day that I run across music of this caliber. It’s the kind of thing that reassures for me why this website is a necessity. The names of Pharis and Jason Romero simply must be more widely known and respected. Their art is genuine and their work is beautiful. Listen, enjoy, and share this art with those you love. Their hearts will thank you.