Issue #81: The Bone Rodeo by Yankee Longstraw

September 5, 2017

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The Bone Rodeo by Yankee Longstraw
Released On December 23, 2012

This Week’s Selection Chosen By Erin Calvert

Founded on the multi-instrumentalist talents of this four piece ensemble, Yankee Longstraw’s debut record flows like bittersweet letters to an old friend from home. It is as clever and moving on paper as it is in stereo, with the incredible talents and experiences of these old souls funneling through your speakers and straight into your ears.

I’ve shared so much love, whiskey, and heartache with this album over the years, and I truly believe it takes a special kind of record to embed itself this deeply in to your memories. My iTunes actually says that I’ve had the pleasure of listening to The Bone Rodeo in its entirety over 3,000 times since its 2012 release, so it’s clearly special to my heart. With that in mind, I’d like to share a secret with you now.

I remember the first day I heard this album. My pint-sized, queer booty was sitting in the backseat of the middle class machine on the way to my first 18+ show with my good friend, his girlfriend, and her (at the time) unabashedly homophobic parent. The album was playing just loud enough to drown out her mother’s concerned monologues and so my teen love story with The Bone Rodeo began.

If you’ve ever watched a TV drama, you’ll catch on quickly. My story is the old Out Girl meets Closeted Girl with a love triangle ensuing that leaves Beard in the dark while also unknowingly caught in the middle. Standard stuff, you know? No? Well, let’s just focus on my perspective.

Here I was, pining for this girl I knew I could never have, but at this point I was pretty sure she was interested in me too. Was I getting ahead of myself — apparently not? As the “Prelude” dwindled to silence, I caught eyes with her in the car’s side mirror. She smiled, I smiled, and Yankee Longstraw’s “When The Son Of A Bitch Comes Back” made my heart skip a beat. Like a spooky guardian angel, the song served as a warning not to mess with the heart of the boy beside me. Foolishly, I would anyway, but that’s beside the point. Throughout that love triangle and the five years of romantic encounters to follow, The Bone Rodeo became my go-to album for self-reflection and my cure for homesickness whilst stranded east of the Atlantic.

Where American Folk meets Alternative Rock, you find Yankee Longstraw blazing a new trail, and it’s a trail I cannot give enough praise. It is a perfect blend of the timeless charm of folk music and the all-encompassing wall of sound found within late-’70s rock, something no listener can resist. With something for everyone, Yankee Longstraw run the full gamut of emotions from the riled up “When That Son Of A Bitch Comes Back” to the melancholy love song “Sunshower//Sunflower” to the last call anthem “2:22.” Add the “Prelude” in and that’s just the first four songs of this fantastic record, giving you a perfect soundtrack for your wild night to remember. Everything else afterwards is just icing on the cake here. So shut up, sit down, and listen as you yourself may be in need of some reflection.

With the recent release of “Wendolyn” and a new record on the horizon, my little goth heart is over the moon about adding new music from the New York quartet into my life. But in the meantime, enjoy The Bone Rodeo and all the cathartic guidance it provides.

Erin Calvert (@erinpcalvert)
Elder Goth In The Making

Rooted in familiar sounds, The Bone Rodeo demonstrates the band’s deep musical knowledge, with plenty of tricks & surprises to make it distinct and fresh.

It’s interesting to be able to approach this first September Radar pick from the perspective of not only knowing who Yankee Longstraw is but also being familiar with them first hand, over many years. The band would not only play some of my favorite New York City venues (shoutout to the late Cake Shop…) but also frequently share bills with other bands at venues local to my stomping grounds on Long Island, NY. (And yes, we say “on” Long Island, not “in.”) The first time I heard Yankee Longstraw was through a live setting, which actually is how I spent most of my time hearing them after first introduction. That’s not to say I didn’t go home afterward and jam via the group’s Bandcamp page. Nonetheless, hearing the live energy from an uptempo, slightly bluesy, perfect highway road jam song like “When The Son Of A Bitch Comes Back,” and hearing Andrew Krolikowski add just a touch of improvisation when leaning into his vocals on that refrain — perhaps injecting some grit and a drop of toughness in his voice, holding onto a note a fraction of a moment longer than originally written, to really emphasize emotions — are the extra artistic flashes that bring Yankee Longstraw’s songs just a little more vivaciousness than one would get from hearing the studio execution on repeat. The band’s general character on The Bone Rodeo indeed reflects that of a roots rock minded group of people. Instrumental tones and effects on guitars are stretched and shaped to get that lengthy country quality; almost like pedal steel but not actually in-person. Melodies to songs like that of “Once Upon A Waterloo,” linger on certain notes and words combined, holding specific accidental notes that don’t fit into the key of the song, giving appreciative nods to moments of humanity’s emotional imperfections, (“Once upon a waterloo / is when I fell in love with you”) minus actual performative error. The clack of sticks, the minor key tilted melody, and the bass prominent, galloping rhythm hook of “Our History,” oozes the vibe of classic western films. Yankee Longstraw don’t completely submerge themselves or their songwriting in western, Americana, or folk qualities, as is event by their very standard band arrangement and lack of cowboy attire. However, what makes their music and chosen path so enjoyable is that despite using a very familiar set of musical tools, there’s no denying the band’s appreciation and thoughtful pursuit of the distinctive sound and emotional groove orbiting the space around American roots music and culture.

Kira Grunenberg (@shadowmelody1)
Prolific Sonic Scribe & Unifier

There’s a long list of frontmen with imperfect voices who know how to write songs and melodies that make them sound so damn good. Think about Tom Petty: would his voice sound as charming, and dare I say it, sexy, if it were on Robert Palmer’s ’80s records? Likewise, Yankee Longstraw’s Andrew Krolikowski’s relaxed, oft-kilter vocals mesh so well with the band’s ’70s-influenced piano country-rock. I was hooked on Yankee Longstraw’s The Bone Rodeo from the first notes of “Prelude,” which kicks the record off with a piano melody straight out of Deadwood, indicating that we will not be listening to our usual indie rock record. The band even manages to work in a Neil Young reference (in “Horses And Guns“) and a few harmonica bits. Be still my heart, y’all. My favorite track, “Nothing’s Changed,” with its chorus of “oh-ohhhhhs,” sounds like something you’d hear from a bar band in 1973, in the best possible way. A lot of the imagery is also Deadwood-esque, stories of heroes and villains, war and death. “4,000 Miles Later…” is about a man who is set to hang for his crimes: “Here I stand, as I watch you ride away / Shadows cast from the gallows pole / Like a cross on the Lord’s Day.” As the song devolves into a piano-driven jam sesh, Krolikowski and company repeat, “…the Governor’s gonna call.” I like that the stories all appear to tie together in theme and even some lyrics. The Bone Rodeo is my favorite type of OYR surprise. Yankee Longstraw is just a relatively unknown band that has a lot of heart and talent that should simply not be unknown.

Melissa Koch (@bunnycaper)
Mediocre Runner, Aspiring Celebrity DJ

When you hear music that’s intriguing, but you don’t quite know what to call it, that’s usually a very good sign. Is The Bone Rodeo country-western? Is it rock? Is it blues? It’s all of them. I was trying to come up with a way to describe the sound in one or two words, but it didn’t hit me until the epic closer “Stoned To Death” — it’s “Goldrush-Soul.” That’s right, I just made that a thing, if only for one very obscure album only available on Bandcamp. Imagine if Marty McFly hadn’t been able to escape the old west in Back To The Future III. This is the music “Mr. Eastwood” would be jamming out to. But let’s go back to my favorite record on the album, “Stoned To Death.” The haunting chord progression and the guitar’s tremolo tell us that it’s story time. There’s a very deliberate build to the record that ends with a climactic barrage of drums and guitar and reverb and quite possibly stones. The way it’s, ahem, executed (see what I did there?) leads me to believe that it’s supposed to be the audio equivalent of being stoned to death. And you know what? That’s pretty damn cool idea.

Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford (@jclyde757)
Steadfast Hip-Hop Historian & Creator

This quartet’s sound is both striking and vibrant, as it deftly utilizes the far reach of Americana.

The moment that I saw the band name Yankee Longstraw, I was hit with a sense of recognition. They’re not a band I actively listen to, but I knew that I had some kind of personal connection to them. At first I thought they were a band that a friend of mine does PR for — after all, they’re constantly promoting bands in my Facebook newsfeed so of course that’s where I knew the name from. As it turned out, no… that band is Yankee Brutal. So not the same band. A quick look at their Facebook revealed that their vocalist is Andrew Krolikowski, and hey! I know that name! He used to front Vision Through Sound, a band that I played shows with a couple of times when I was a student at New Paltz. In fact, my old hardcore punk band, NO, played our first show opening for Vision Through Sound. What a small world this is. Based completely on Krolikowski’s previous band from playing with them nearly ten years ago, The Bone Rodeo isn’t what I was expecting when I hit play, but I also wasn’t really sure what to expect. Obviously Yankee Longstraw isn’t just Vision Through Sound Mk. II, but it’s also not a complete sonic shift either. There are plenty of traces of alternative, but there’s a twang to it. Songs like “When The Son Of A Bitch Comes Back” and “2:22” start the album off strong with catchy melodies and fun guitar work that’s not overly flashy, while “Sunshower//Sunflower” and “Once Upon A Waterloo” are a bit more mellow, and they balance the album’s energy without completely killing the momentum. It’s music like this that draws people to rock and roll in the first place. Even the 7 and a half minute closer, “Stoned To Death,” has a casual appeal to it; it might be twice as long as your average pop song but it doesn’t get high off itself. What’s more rock and roll than that? (Oh, and here’s a fun note to end on: By pure coincidence, this week I was going through all of my old CDs from high school and college when I came across Cheer Up Chap, Middle School Isn’t Everything by Vision Through Sound. The timing couldn’t have been better.)

Dustin Gates (@cmoncheermeup)
Relapsed Pop Culture Junkie

It took twenty minutes to drive from his house to mine. The sky is wide in the Alabama countryside at night, with stars that touch the tip of each pine tree and hide behind the little hills that roll through cow pastures. Before I realized his strange insistence that I drive myself home in his truck every night and then back to him the next day was the beginning of a controlling abuse, and before I realized I would play into it because of what my father taught me, I cherished those midnight drives. Fog would seep in and around the trees and creeks of my childhood, and I would ramble, finally alone in the morose and mysterious comfort that can be the ghostly South. As familiar as those hills were, when the fog swept over it haunted the landscape, transforming the seen into the unseen. That transient quality ghosts The Bone Rodeo, an album that calls up the Spanish moss and unmarked graveyards of the Deep South. With a “Prelude” that would be as at home in church as it would a tavern, Yankee Longstraw bursts into this album with “When The Son Of A Bitch Comes Back,” classic rock drums with a chimey guitar and underwater vocals that warn listeners, ending with a preternatural caterwaul that fractures and chills. Even though there is plenty of good-natured tempos and melodies on the album, it’s that underlining ghostliness, the hint of what you know they can do, that threads the disparate influences together and roots it back down in the navy dark fog of the Deep South.

Laura Burroughs (@_thetwors)
Jestful Musical Erudite

Sometimes I think what separates a good album from a truly great one is a certain ruthlessness. The ability to tell the truth to your bandmates, or the ability to listen to it from a producer when they tell you: “This song doesn’t fit,” or “This song could be better and here’s how.” Your hopes and desires to see all of your children (i.e. songs) born into the light of release day has to be subsumed by the overall project. You must be able, in essence, to murder some of your favorite things and leave the bodies on the cutting room floor. Yankee Longstraw aren’t quite there, but the A&R person/producer in me is mightily impressed by what they have accomplished in the cutthroat genre of modern Americana — when they are at their best, that is. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing terrible going on in The Bone Rodeo — my biggest complaint is that my Tom Petty hair-trigger gets set off a few times — but I also wished for more reasons to listen to them versus the titans of rootsy rock like Wilco or Hiss Golden Messenger. In essence, I wanted more songs like “Once Upon A Waterloo.” As written, the song already has a lot going for it, including a brilliant touch of melancholy via The Kinks (“Waterloo,” get it?), and as recorded, it rides a freight train into the realm of genius. The harmonies take flight with the Burrito Brothers, there are horns, lyrical guitar solos, and a heavenly instrumental outro that lasts for about half the song’s 5:39. It’s a deeply absorbing and heartfelt listen, and certainly one of the best songs of 2012. I see they have a new song out, which also sounds damned good. But will they be ruthless enough to make a irrefutably great album? I’m rooting for them!

Jeremy Shatan (@anearful)
Prescient & Appreciative Musical Omnivore

Overlooked in the dizzying shifts of styles is the slight presence of motifs & themes, which only add to the record’s dynamic spirit.

Never underestimate the power and importance of the first few seconds of a song. Case in point: “Our History.” I listened to The Bone Rodeo for the first time while running on the beach in Corolla, North Carolina — headphones in, brain zoning out and following every weird synaptic path that the album sparked. And I was completely transported by the start of “Our History.” That minor-key piano walkdown and subsequent chordal two-step picked me up and placed me back down in the climactic final scene of the first season of Westworld — the one that’s soundtracked by an eerie, stripped-down version of Radiohead’s “Exit Music For A Film.” (I’m almost certain I’ve never been more excited about music accompanying film or television than the moment those chords kicked in. If you’re not a Westworld person, it’s worth watching that entire season just for that scene. I swear.) The rest of “Our History” was transformed for me by those opening moments, like how food can taste better when you find out the ingredients were grown in a friend’s backyard, or how a movie can be more fun because the right person recommended it. Two quick follow-up notes: Firstly, The Wesworld Effect™ also brought out the Yorke-Greenwood shading in “4,000 Miles Later…” and secondly, I had an acute need for being transported while “Our History” was playing, given the fact that I found myself in the profoundly awkward position of having to run behind the altar of a beach-set wedding in full swing. During those truly cringe-worthy 15 seconds, I really needed to be somewhere else, and Yankee Longstraw delivered.

Davy Jones (@youhearthat)
Idealistic Seeker Of Neoteric Sounds

This album surprised me. I went into it expecting something much different than the excellent rock and roll that I found upon listening. I thought it might be a country concept album of some sort and my thoughts seemed like they were going to come true during the “Prelude.” But then something else entirely was unleashed. It was rock and roll of the epic, old-school variety. Some of the lyrics are darker, but the feel is the same. When “Once Upon A Waterloo” came on, i thought I had the band pegged, and then they switched it up again with this beautiful epic masterpiece. There is a cohesive story at work on this album but the delivery of that story astounded and delighted me. I’m looking forward to many more listens of this one.

James Anderson (@unabashedjames)
Devoted Docent Of Musical Concepts

Back in 2008, during the weekend I met my wife for the first time, I visited a music shop in Radford, VA and found a $2.00 copy of Stoned +2, a very limited single/EP release from The Bicycle Thief, a band that I hope to be cogent enough to discuss in this publication one day. Though the three songs were all on the 1999 record You Come And Go Like A Pop Song I already owned, I picked it up and added it to my musical collection where it still resides as one of my more treasured entries. I’ve often wondered how that obscure CD ended up in that record store, and if someone would have ever picked it up without knowing who The Bicycle Thief was. The band name and artwork together gave it a cultured avant-garde feel, while the tracklisting seemed intriguingly ambiguous and caustic. To some, it might have just been puzzling enough to justify a few bills and I’d like to hope that they’d be pleasantly surprised as well as entertained by the music contained on that CD. Since the prevalence of CDs has fallen so dramatically since that serendipitous purchase, I doubt The Bone Rodeo will ever get that chance to entice someone, but if it ever found its way into the CD rack of a small record shop, I know for sure any country/Americana fan would be hard-pressed not to add it to their own collection. With song titles like “Horses And Guns” and “When The Son Of A Bitch Comes Back,” the “western” in country-westen is well represented, while the band name, album title, and cover art all seem to raise the ante on what “outlaw” country is. But the triumph of Bone Rodeo is how it doesn’t rest on the imagery its aesthetic evokes. Sure, it touches down on some of the sounds and structures of those genres, but it also boldly goes off-trail any real chance it gets, often times to glorious results. “Sunshower//Sunflower” is so deeply rooted in ’50s doo-wop that the country splashes are hardly even noticeable, while “4,000 Miles Later…” seems to borrow more from Jim Morrison than Waylon Jennings, with enough desolate despair to make each of those songwriters feel like Bobby McFerrin. These moments combine with the more grounded Americana offerings to create a fascinating collection of songs that only expands on the intriguing nature of its packaging. It all makes for a solid purchase, the type of record store steal everyone wishes they could grab when pursuing a used bin for something “different.” Luckily, Bone Rodeo is as familiar as it is different, making for one spectacular find regardless of medium.

Doug Nunnally (@musicdoug)
Garrulous Aural Braggart

Next Week’s Selection:
Codeine Velvet Club by Codeine Velvet Club
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Off Your Radar Newsletter

Editor: Doug Nunnally

Contributors: James Anderson, Laura Burroughs, Erin Calvert, Catherine Dempsey, Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford, Dustin Gates, Kira Grunenberg, Davy Jones, Melissa Koch, David Munro, Drew Necci, & Jeremy Shatan

Logo By Matt Klimas


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