There’s a husky note of regret in Aubrey Cohen’s vocal. “What they don’t know is we got us a spark / take off our clothes and swim in the dark,” she sings on “Prisoner’s Wife,” a song whose vexed narrative is darkly romantic. The waltzing melody adds to that, but it’s Cohen’s delivery — stoic and close to the mic, with the hint of a sob at the end each line. If her voice isn’t completely familiar, tone- and style-wise, it only takes half a song to understand her aptitude as a front woman.
Cohen (bass and vocals), Justin Eisenman (guitar and vocals) and Drew Matiluch (mandolin) make up the country duo The Clydes. From the opening notes of their debut album, Rattlesnake Lodge, they establish themselves as storytellers, composers of redolent scores and skilled singers of duets. (Their website is, aptly, ClydesOnFire.com.)
Eisenman takes the lead on the tongue-and-cheek “Boob Tube.” It’s fast-paced, with the kind of humor that’s funny because it doesn’t stray too far from real life. “Being your man is just one of the places that I’ll punch the clock / because I’m a 24/7 working man, living in a roll-back dodge,” Eisenman sings. His approach is similar on the country-jazz track, “Ride for the Brand.” He skips easily over the tongue-twist of words, adds a yodel and a wink. But its how Eisenman occasionally bites off his verses — a listener could imagine him lipping a Marlboro or a stalk of wheat — that best conjure the apropos Cowboy.
“Broken Hearted Fool” matches lithe guitar and soaring fiddle. The subtle thump of stand-up bass has just enough presence to tell the hips how to dance. Cohen’s lead vocal marries melancholy with energetic lift as the song see-saws through its emotional range.
A stand out on the album is “Wolf and Me,” which cleverly incorporates a line from Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” It’s simultaneously haunting and driving, and when Matiluch’s mandolin takes a fleet solo it’s hard not to openly cheer. (That would make sense in a concert setting. Not so much in an office, at a desk, wearing headphones.)
While this is an album for country music enthusiasts, the collection of songs transcends genre (as the best art tends to). More than songs, these are stories complete with soundtracks and, within the framework of love and loss, hardship and heartbreak, they contain a cinematic aesthetic and an element of surprise. Final track “The Greatest Show,” with its circus-evocative melody and sparks of vintage-sounding clarinet and mandolin, certainly contains an entire screen play within its two-and-a-half minutes. But it also suggests a spin around the room with your sweetie. Or — perhaps even better, because this is a country record — someone else’s sweetie.