Album review: Denver's self-titled debut

Before there was Major League baseball, brewpubs and an unfortunate influx of people from California, New York and Texas, Colorado’s capital city embodied a certain scruffy Western air that felt a lot like the indie group Denver sounds on its self-titled debut (Mama Bird Recording Company). The band, which features members of Blitzen Trapper, is actually from Portland, Ore., at least in terms of geography. Spiritually, the group hails from the early ’70s on countrified songs that bear the influence of Gram Parsons and Waylon Jennings.

The songs are showcases for locked-in vocal harmonies, banjo picking, swells of pedal steel guitar and thumpy drums, with a bluejeans and mustaches kind of sensibility. The band cooks its way through the speedy “Ballroom Slip-cut,” dials in a dusty air of resignation on “The Way it Is” and rides a bouncing beat on “Rabbit Dancin’.” They’re more than solid, but Denver is at its best here on a trio of city songs (none of which is named “Denver”), each of which is, in its own way, about leaving. Harmonica and gliding steel guitar wrap around the narrator’s disillusionment on opener “Toledo,” while “Reno” is a stark, heartbroken road song with spellbinding vocal harmonies. Closing number “Ridin’ Alone (San Antone)” is a road song, too, full of longing for home set to a simple, devastating mix of acoustic and slide guitars and harmonica. You can almost feel the singer heave a sigh behind the wheel as he speeds along on some lonesome highway, right before you heave one of your own and hit play again.

— Eric R. Danton

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