We first introduced Streets of Laredo back in 2012 and where very excited about them back then, with further bulletins coming over the past two years. Now having established themselves in their adopted American homeland, they’ve been picked up by Dine Alone Records and their two EPs have been combined into the excellent debut album that was always intended, hence the title Volume I & II. Not only is that about to get a proper UK release, but the band are also over for a short series of dates, which has got us all the more excited.
At the heart of the band is a trio of family members who hail from New Zealand’s North Island, David (drums and vocals), his wife Sarahjane (vocals, percussion, melodica) and David’s younger brother Dan (lead vocals and acoustic guitar). It was the brothers who originally got things rolling, although the younger David had to be persuaded back from the brink of giving up on music all together. Once they had a demo recorded and persuaded Sarahjane into the fold, however, the reaction from friends and fellow musicians was so encouraging that all such thoughts were banished. As their back-story developed into a sort of freewheeling, all-comers’ jam session, with the trio at its core, they adopted the name Streets Of Laredo, at Sarahjane’s suggestion, with a home-town gig in Auckland confirming the musical merits that the reaction to their demo had suggested.
If the story so far suggests a certain free spiritedness, then the next move, migrating half way round the world to Brooklyn, New York, positively screams it. There was a logic though, in that being in a band is hard enough to sustain anywhere, so why not try it in a place where there is already a sizeable, potential audience. Still it was a bold move, but one that paid off handsomely, immediately introducing them to fellow NZ expat guitarists Cameron Deyell and Thom Darlow (guitar). Adding other local scenesters, Sean McMahon (bass) and Andrew McGovern (keyboards) created a seven piece live band, along with Si Moore who shares production credits and plays on the album, but is not now part of the band.
After some intense rehearsing, Streets Of Laredo started to pick up local interest, before the likes of Billboard, The New York Times and others waded in, making them one of the must see acts at last year’s Bonaroo festival. That performance was followed by winning a prestigious unsigned bands competition, which in turn led to them signing with Dine Alone.
The appeal of Streets Of Lorado is pretty immediately apparent and hipster names like Father John Misty, The Butler Brothers, Joshua Tilman, Grizzly Bear, Calexico, Chris Taylor and Arcade Fire all slip easily into focus. That said, Cat Stevens, but particularly Paul Simon, who the band acknowledge as a major influence, have both been directly referenced by the band. There are also strong echoes of the late 60’s psychedelic era and certainly in the two tracks that Sarahjane sings lead on (and arguably elsewhere), a little of Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood. All of the songs, however, are written by the brothers, except for two shared by Sarahjane and Dave, so, in reality, they sound like no one else except Streets of Laredo, but then that’s a very good thing.
In addition to those named above, Ben King adds guitars, pump organ and vocals as well as getting a co-producers credit, although as these were two different EPs and thus different sessions that might explain that. Other guest contributions come from friends, Cass Mitchell (bass), Brescia Mascherotti (vocals) but most notably the horns of Haddon Smith, as the most obvious added extra.
Given the numbers, this is naturally a big sounding record, but it’s also one that’s all about the detail and at the heart is a really great set of tunes and a strong vocal performance to match. Dan is a great singer in his own right, but it’s the combinations that make the difference, either in sweet harmony with Sarahjane and even more so, when the massed ranks of the Streets Of Laredo get going, the effect is very powerful.
The first of the album’s 10 tracks, Everything To Everyone, sets out their stall. There must be four or five guitars parts, possibly more, by the time the first verse is through, so everyone in the band plays their part, but it’s not a wall of fuzz-toned blitzkrieg and the lines weave in and out and the pretty finger picked acoustic keeps the song on course. The horns certainly make themselves known and the final section of the song swells to something immense. Lyrically it’s poetic and perhaps captures the brothers in, “The younger one,” and, “The eldest one,” with a little of their adventures (or misadventures) in, “It’s the breadline I’m running from, found a fortune, but not of gold, in the friends that I behold.”
Lonsdale Line is a song that the band have worked up on the live circuit around New York and also the beneficiary of an excellent animated video that we’ve posted before. The Paul Simon influence seems to creep through in the percussion, which echoes Cecilia, while the song itself concerns long-distance love and lost luggage. Girlfriend is another song that the band has worked on, obsessing over in trying to define their sound, which you can hear coming together as the multiple guitar layers duck in and out underpinned by a percussive thump and rattle. In one way it brings the romance closer to home, but then takes it for a walk on the wild-child side, with just a little hint of Subterranean Homesick Blues about it before the expansive coda takes control, adding a whole new musical dimension.
Need A Little Help by contrast is fairly straight ahead, a solid strum-along with Dan’s voice to the fore. It picks up the beat at the first chorus, rolling along and building mid song with another swell of brass, creating both texture and a little hint of Calexico-like harmony, only lift again and fall away to twanging guitars and splashing percussion, before the final reel. If it’s the most conventional track, then the first of Sarahjane’s contributions, Homeless, is probably the least, so far as it complete Volume I. Staring with a clatter of drums, it settles into a double-waltz time as the song shimmers and guitars drift in and out of the haze. That Nancy and Lee comparison kicks in for the third verse, where Dave takes the dark brown male voice tones into somewhat more grain liquor and nicotine stain territory. There’s a sense of a new freedom, laced with more of that homesick blues, albeit more wistful than subterranean this time around.
That feeling continues through the start of Volume Two and Hey Rose, another brightly strummed number that has an almost rockabilly-rumble at its core. That said it also does it’s best to slip this earthly realm, piling on the atmospherics, with everything at a distance, while another lengthy instrumental twists the simple love song into something more unusual. Slow Train picks up the drive of the previous song, but with its big “Oooh-oohs,” dramatic middle eight and final build, signals that the Streets of Laredo have started to hit their poppy stride. Laredo confirms it, with some great guitar work and another multi-layered vocal arrangement, although, there’s also a psychedelic wash that comes over the song about half way through. “The dust of Laredo,” has a new significance with the recent droughts that have hit Texas, but also ties us back to the dying cowboy in the song from which their name derives, although here Dan seems to be connecting us to better times as once again the theme of migration is explored, perhaps in the case of the bands own, with lines like , “I found gold in the tunnels of New York.”
Dear Leron is Sarahjane channelling her inner Nancy Sinatra again, while the guys lay down a cinematic county number that Hazlewood would have been proud of, even the huge wall of feedback that threatens to derail us in the middle of the song. It’s another big song that falls away to the low key intro to the epic closer I’m Living. Lyrically this is appears a simple declaration of love, but as it unfolds over six plus minutes, there’s plenty of opportunity to build the arrangement with organ swells, brass and, of course, layers of guitar, peppering the song with riffs, fills and asides. It’s a great way to finish.
Having made their bold move to New York Streets Of Laredo seem to have been content to play a patient game, working on their song craft and creating a buzz from the ground up. Perhaps older brother Dave’s experience of fronting NZ rock band Elemeno P has influenced their line of thinking. It may have taken a couple of years but Volume I & II draws on their unique make up and channels the struggles and the triumphs involved in moving half way around the world into the debut long player that Streets Of Laredo have craved. It’s already picking up loads of support through the American CMJ college network and they’ll be here at the start of March for a short tour. Don’t miss out.
Review by: Simon Holland
UK Tour Dates
Tue Mar 3 – London, Sebright Arms
Thu Mar 5 – Manchester, The Castle Hotel
Fri Mar 6 – Leeds, Brudenell Games Room
Sat Mar 7 – Glasgow, Broadcast
Full Dates European Dates here: