Monday, July 29, 2013

Cold Country Is An Unsigned Artist Hit

Sean McConnell knows music. He is an audio engineer responsible for several Chicago bands on the radar (The Bears of Blue River among them). He also has his own folk gig. It's called Cold Country, named after what his dad used to refer to as the Midwest.

Since last April, McConnell has been pouring out an immense body of work, one self-released 7-track EP and two 12-track LPs in about a year. In support of his first outing, Monday Morning, he managed to fit in four short tours.

Much of the material came from songs that didn't fit with an Austin-based duo he was part of for several years. Listening to his full body of work, it creates this urgent and immediate sense that McConnell has been working to lock down his sound somewhere in the indie pop, folk, and lo-fi realms.

This experimental produce everything attitude has a created a patchwork of music, with different tracks appealing to very different audiences with some exceptions. While it's easy to peruse all his music, it's his newest EP that catches McConnell at his best. The sparsely populated 5-track selection works.

Missing The Muse sets a direction for Cold Country. 

As the driving force behind the music, Cold Country is sometimes described as a moniker for McConnell. Of course, that is only part of the story. While some of the music is obviously dubbed, he does rely on an ever-changing carousel of friends to complete his studio sessions.

On Missing The Muse, McConnell handles vocals, guitar, and toy piano throughout and harmonica, bass, and drums on select tracks. Other contributors include Anna Holmquist (Casio, vocals,), Jayson Homyak (bass, xylophone), John Nugent (lead guitar), Chris Jesurun (drums), and Ryan Suzaka (harmonica on tracks opposite McConnell). McConnell plays both accompanied and solo when he tours.

The third track, for example, a lush and slow tempo folk ballad daydream, plays as a duet on the studio session with Holmquist. At the same time, his craftsmanship on Carried Away With The Wind shines through as an acoustic guitar solo too. As lush as it is lazy, he sells it with a world weary gruffness.

If anyone were to single out elements of his performances, it would be the matter-of-fact conviction in his voice paired with an uncanny ability to become part of the songs. You might notice that his eyes are closed in the video, something that doesn't occur as much as it used to but still comes up from time to time.

Recently, he used an artist residency at Hill House in East Jordan, Michigan, to polish his live performances, right in time for a cross country tour in August. Upcoming dates include Iowa City, Lincoln, Denver, Pocatello, Seattle, Albuquerque, and his hometown in Phoenix. He also has an upcoming Daytrotter debut slated for September.

The balance of the tracks that make up Missing The Muse. 

After Carried Away With The Wind, the best place to start on the EP is with My Bird Of Paradise, an indie folk confessional. It straddles a thin line between wise and optimistic, longing and settled. Her Light follows with more power than any other track on the album. Like most of the songs, it's all about becoming lost in the details of someone.

Cutting back up to the top of the EP, What It Takes takes a little too long on the introduction, but will easily win someone over when McConnell picks up the verse. The title track, Missing The Muse, reinforces this notion of effortless observation and self-reflection that have become a big part of the Cold Country sound and McConnell's songwriting.

Missing The Muse By Cold Country Warms Up 6.5 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Cold Country didn't necessarily put out the best indie folk EP this summer, but McConnell has certainly made a case to put him and keep him on the watch list. He's clearly masterful at the kick back and settle in sound that can fill a room on a quiet afternoon or accompany an ice cold pour after a long day at a neighborhood tavern. And that's why he made our list as an unsigned artist pick.

Missing The Muse is being released exclusively on McConnell's Bandcamp page. You can find all of his other releases there too. Cold Country also has an EP listed on iTunes. Monday Morning was released last year. With 7 tracks and an interlude, it almost feels like an album. Check Out Fly On Your Wall and Little Bird. For more details on his tour schedule, visit Cold Country on Facebook.
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