Published May 09, 2019Far be it from me to disparage someone's cowboy credentials — An American Forrest has ridden rodeos for a while, and lives in the mountain west. He yodels a bit on this record, especially when his broken heart doesn't seem like it can sing. Plus, there is at least one song about how hard it is to get through the winter, and at least two songs that use the ponderosa pine as a symbol of long suffering in a difficult landscape. Evidence exists for Forrest's self claim as a cowboy singer.
It's not that Forrest is too self-aware — to be self-aware of one's voice in tradition and myth is an ongoing problem of this niche genre. However, it's almost the wrong kind of myth. The album risks going off the rails — when he sings lines like "all the balm in gilead, and all that soldiers joys / Annie Oakley, Ezra Brooks and Helen of Troy / All that gold and gorgeous / I spent years trying to avoid." (on "Ain't Been Tamed, Yet") it's over-packed, too many metaphors, too many ways of trying to convince the audience of its cleverness, too much high and low for no real purpose. Which is frustrating, because on songs like "Timberbind," the songs are clear and direct.
Though his voice can be rough and flat at times, and sometimes the guitar could stand to do with some variety, the album is often very charming. He can yodel very well, and where he cribs, he cribs well. There is a direct quotation of the last, absurdist line of John Prine's "Illegal Smile" here, and that aforementioned yodel, which is deployed with charming efficiency. There are also places, where the smart writing undergirds deep feeling, and right musicianship — an erotic melancholic longing reminiscent of Josh Ritter at his best.
This genre taxonomy doesn't really matter, all the time, and I am not sure I would have mentioned it, except that Forrester includes it in press materials, and on videos. The album is, trying on a bunch of personae, and sometimes it works, and sometimes it jars one out of the listening experience. It's never a bad album, but it's a flawed one. However, the ambition suggests great promise, and those flaws are interesting enough, to wonder what he'll do next. (Independent)