A couple years ago, Chris Carey released his solo debut Sunset Moon. The ’70s-vintage folk-rock and alt-country felt a bit like the antidote to his primary gig as drummer for Railbird—or at least the fulfiment of that band’s original Americana trajectory, before they took a hard, satisfying turn into experiemental indie rock. The Rodeo Barons originally were hatched as a vehicle for Carey’s songwriting, but he made a happy mistake by inviting Railbird bandmates Chris Kyle and James Gascoyne onboard as well as Mike O’Donnell and Sam Zucchini, and inadvertently launched a Travelling Wilburys-style supergroup.
The Barons play it even-steven on their self-titled debut, allowing Carey, Gascoyne and O’Donnell three songs each, while Zucchini penned and sings the closer “Moon Lady.” What could come off as a mixtape of excellent but disparate songwriting, instead feels cohesive and calculated, with just enough variety in the trio’s sensibilities to give their tracks recognizable flavor but without it feeling like a different band on every go-round. The record’s inside jacket art features a drawing of a portable turntable, and the album as a whole feels crafted for an analog spin, with enough crackle to keep the whole thing feeling warm and enough space for lead guitarist Kyle to flex his formidable chops in classic-rock fashion (rather than the angularity of Railbird), as on Carey’s “Upside Down.”
Sunset Moon showed Carey’s affection for songwriters like Neil Young, but his track “Holy Ghost” burrows a little deeper into alt-country terrain. By contrast, Gascoyne’s “I Like the Rhythm” stays light and airy. O’Donnell’s contribution comes in the vein of My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, with a love of reverb and big choral choruses, as on “Waiting For the Light.” But it’s Zucchini’s contribution that makes the whole thing feel like something Laurel Canyon might have once produced. It’s all lens flare and Mexican throw rugs, a slow-burning sunset of rust and ochre as a crescent softly rises—that is, another sunset moon.