Overlooked Albums of 2015: Coal Creek Boys – Out West


History. It permeates every song recorded by Alberta, Canada’s Coal Creek Boys. Focusing on the homeland of frontman John Paul Smith, the band’s debut LP, Hard At It In Old Town, was rooted in Canadian mining lore. 2013’s sprawling double album, Rose Town — inconsistent given its scope and guest-curated sequence — stepped south of the border to examine events, figures and sounds such as Prohibitionist Carrie Nation and Oklahoma’s Red Dirt music. With the March 2015 release of Out West, the trio headed by Smith stripped down and took a step back, painting in broad acoustic strokes a history of nation building.

Covering the period from the Civil War to World War II, the Coal Creek Boys intimate at history rather than rehashing actual events, further adding to the myth of the West via fictional tales of those left behind as on the bellowing “War Bride” and repentant closer “Sorry Man”, while glamorizing its outlaws on the murder ballad “Two Shots” and the burnished threats of “Deadwood,” all the while invoking Steve Earle on “The Letter.”

Out West features two instrumental tracks: the fingerpicked “Code of the Woods” and “Ashokan Farewell,” a Scottish waltz used by Ken Burns as the theme for his 1990 documentary The Civil War. It is these moments that add the most dramatic tension to Out West, an album dedicated to and informed by the “blood on the backs of our ancestors.” Like the driven steel that connected the coasts of North America, Out West is a collection of fables colored by the individuals who walked those lines. By keeping it focused and succinct, the Coal Creek Boys exhibit power through restraint. A soundtrack in its own right, Out West excels without over-reaching; its tales speaking for those who walked before us.

Watch the video for the title track and stream/purchase Out West below. Purchase the album on vinyl via Classic Waxxx.

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