In the midst of the ever-present cycle of controversy about authenticity in country music, we all know that sincerity is the key that unlocks the whole mystery. Being an actual cowboy like An American Forrest sure doesn’t hurt. On O Bronder, Donder Yonder, Forrest has distilled a relentless literary curiosity that includes Cormac McCarthy, zen koans, and traditional cowboy poetry into his own unique voice.
When you buy the album (and you will) you ought to read the liner notes. Forrest humbly credits the many people who have inspired him. But there’s no denying Forrest’s own flair, a fascination with alliteration and turns of phrase that echo the steps of his sturdy steeds through the Oregon wilderness.
O Bronder, Donder Yonder begins with “Sam’s House,” a song that finds Forrest and his band cantering and trotting through a yarn that concludes with Forrest receiving earth-shattering news. Like so many songs in recent years, what was originally meant to recount a personal crisis becomes a political commentary. As Forrest questions whether the universe can truly be just, it leaves us asking the same for ourselves, in whatever ways we feel injustice.
It’s also the song that sets the stage for this album, not only for the personal crisis that inspired this particular collection of songs, but also for an interrogation of the meaning of the word “yonder.” In some songs, that “yonder” represents mystery and adventure — in “Yonder My Love,” Forrest bridges Shakespearean tradition with cowboy poetry, implying that “yonder” isn’t a physical place but the space between two lovers. But sometimes “yonder” isn’t a promise so much as the destination, as in “Yonder Mountain,” where Forrest isolates himself from others for his own benefit.
The wilderness holds a very specific space in the American imagination — it represents mystery, purity, or a place yet to be conquered; it all depends on your point of view. In O Bronder, Donder Yonder, Forrest illustrates that at the end of the day, it’s a place like anywhere else, no matter how pregnant with meaning. O Bronder humanizes that yonder, projecting the storms inside our hearts onto the landscape outside. Whether you’re trusting your horse to guide you through the woods at night or standing on a subway platform while you do it, An American Forrest reminds us that facing that storm head-on is the only trail worth following.