From Seed to Stone – County Road X
Advance Records 71102-2
When late, lamented jam-fusion heroes Fat Mama parted ways nebulously in early 2001, drummer Joe Russo stayed in New York, eventually forming The Duo with organist Marco Benevento, while the Mamas’ chief sonic architect, keyboardist Erik Deutsch, headed back to Boulder, Colorado. Shortly, Deutsch played on County Road X, the new band’s self-titled, semi-forgettable debut which I now have to go dig back up. Their sophomore outing, From Seed To Stone, begins to make good on the heady promises of the Mamas’ Live at the Theater 99, elegantly pushing fusion into post-rock waters.
Like Fat Mama, County Road X is a small big ensemble, a septet this time, with rhythm section, strings (pedal steel and cello), horns (trumpet and various reeds), as well as Deutsch, who acts as gravitational center and composed seven of the tunes. There are a lot of color combinations between those voices, and County Road X makes extremely economic use of them, often employing small pairings to lead different sections.
Glenn Taylor’s pedal steel, which lent a lite Flecktones-like note to the band’s debut (as it does on the disc-opening "Panama Line"), is used more effectively this time out. On "Moon Man" it slides across the top of lonesome chamber jazz, like Gordon Stone jamming with the Tin Hat Trio. It is offset by Deutsch’s considered piano, which sometimes sounds like Radiohead without Jonny Greenwood’s blips or Thom Yorke’s melodrama. In other words: haunting. "The Milk Princess," meanwhile, is built on a repeating pedal steel riff, while a gentle horn arrangements and cello filter in and build.
The instruments blend in different combinations throughout, giving the disc a fluid dynamic that stays fresh. Led by former Fat Mama trumpter Jon Gray, the vaguely eastern European "Grown Men" (composed by Taylor) coalesces into a military march reminescent of Charlie Haden’s Spanish-influenced Liberation Music Orchestra. Once established, the band works on this bedrock, steadfastly running through the song as bedlam breaks loose, is quelled, and resolves into a chamber piece for cello and piano, before a mournful trumpet reprises the song’s theme.
Though the tone of From Seed to Stone is almost entirely ethereal, there is a great emphasis on melodic shape and rhythmic structure. The songs always feel as if they are being performed by a live band — which is fine, ‘cause they are. But the rich palette (as well as the band’s obvious influences) also cry out for the full sonic treatment of an ambitious studio symphony filled with carefully measured interludes of ambience and noise (or something even more imaginative). Point is, County Road X has both released a wonderful album, and – maybe more excitingly – revealed themselves as a band with the ambitions and means for major exploration. To infinity and beyond…