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Hyland delivers cosmic American music

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

(Photo)
It's been called a lot of things over the years: country rock, Americana, alternative country.

But Gram Parsons, the man who's commonly credited with inventing the genre, liked to call it "cosmic American music."

It's a dreamy, undefined term that may just aptly describe the undefined music that exists in the ether that separates rock, country, blues and just about any other form of guitar-based music.

James Hyland seems to see where Parsons was coming from on his new release "Celestial Navigation," released Sept. 14.

It begins with the cover: a group of Indians riding their horses on what appears to be the moon.

Hyland has even said the music perhaps belong on the lunar surface.

"I like to think of this album as the music playing on the jukebox at the first honky-tonk on the moon," Hyland said.

Hyland and backing band the Joint Chiefs deliver a delightful brand of dreamy, hypnotic country music.

It's definitely music for a certain mood, but what a wonderful mood it is.

Hyland delivers his lyrics in a hushed tenor that's almost a whisper at times. It perfectly fits the pensive music the Joint Chiefs make.

The album starts with its high points in opening tracks "Radio City," "Lancelot & the Lady of Shallot" and "Lowcountry Sound," but there is little drop off from there.

Tuning out too early on this one is to do yourself a disservice as a listener. "American Son," which closes the record, is a war song for the current generation.

Neither pro-war nor anti-war, the song presents an unflinching look into the mind of a U.S. Marine and the demons he must carry with him during and after war.

When Hyland delivers the lines "They hit my Humvee/blew out my knee/but I've got scars no one can see," it's with a knowing pain that makes it hard to believe this man isn't actually a vet.

The sound of the band can best be described as consistent. They have found a place that works, and they stay there.

Of course, this group of artists should be consistent in its sound. While this is the first project as James Hyland and the Joint Chiefs, Hyland and several members of the band spent a decade as the South Austin Jug Band.

Over that time, they produced several albums and played live incessantly. It should be no surprise the first James Hyland and the Joint Chiefs record is so polished.

My spin: B-

Hyland has made a delightful record. What it lacks in range, it makes up for in consistent quality.

Like many independent artists, Hyland doesn't have big promotional dollars behind him. Instead, his album is available for download at jameshyland.bandcamp.com, where buyers have the option of naming their own price.

While this may seem like a poor business plan, for artists like this the biggest battle is getting their name out there. Money is made through touring and merchandise sales. The important part of albums is getting their name out there.

So buy this album. It's a good record from an artist deserving of your cash.