Rocky Mountain lows with the Coloradas

 Arm in arm with that Big Empty
By SAM PFEIFLE  |  October 24, 2013

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BARE AS FOLK Coloradas are true songwriters bringing real experience to their craft. 

While it’s understandable that people see the world shrinking, with everywhere just a click of the mouse away, those who’ve driven the American West can maybe best relate to how truly vast the world can be. When hours of driving seem to bring the horizon only slightly closer, there’s little wonder that the country inspired cowboy songs of loneliness and a sensation of being but a small piece in a very grand puzzle.

With their second album, Big Empty, the Coloradas have managed to capture this spirit with their bare and stark acoustic folk tunes seemingly heard from the windows of their 1986 Toyota motorhome. Drawing on early country, blues, Dixie, and gypsy jazz, the pair of Roy Davis and Bernie Nye etch narratives of the forgotten and cast aside, the lovesick and the repentant.

Even more stripped-down and simply recorded than their first self-titled record, which was pretty damn spare, this collection of 13 songs was done in violin-maker Jonathan Cooper’s space in the old Hay Building. In one song, you hear someone walk into the room. In another, someone walks over resonant wooden floors to stop the recording. It’s not the incredibly crisp recording style sometimes favored nowadays with acoustic music, like the last Joy Kills Sorrow record, where it’s like you’re sitting inside a circle of the band. Rather, the Coloradas are over there in the corner, and you can listen to them at your leisure, stepping away for a beer or a smoke.

Your choice. Just know that you’ll be back.

More than anything else, these songs succeed because they ring truly of songwriters who’ve been somewhere and done something, who’ve met the people in their songs, not just invented them of whole cloth from some imagined way things are supposed to be. There is truth, and total lack of artifice, in just about every note and word uttered.

Or at least they’ve sold me.

In “Maxine,” Davis has created yet another woman I feel like I’d recognize on the street, who “sits down in the park to watch the pretty girls and think of/All the men that she coulda had when she was young.” The song is downcast like Davis does, where we seem to be watching an 8 mm film taken from a dead woman’s belongings, his chorus essentially comprising just the woman’s name.

“It’s never you until it’s you, Maxine,” he sings in one version of the refrain and I don’t care at all that it might not mean anything, especially since the harmonica that bleeds in after that is tremendously tasteful.

With flavors of Johns Prine and Denver, mixed with Merle Travis, the Coloradas combine knowing melodies with earthy constructions to contemporize older forms. “The Bank Account Blues” delivers subtle mandolin from guest Joe Walsh accompanied by Davis’s six-syllable phrases that follow on each other like train cars through the night: “My dad’s got a bad heart/I gotta keep mine strong/And I know it’s not smart/All my runnin’ around/(But) I like to have a drink/And I like to drive fast.”

Who doesn’t?

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