Cousti: Strings To Track
It’s a surprise to me that ‘Strings to Tracks’ is Cousti’s debut album. I seem to have been hearing their music on The Medicine Show for a few years now but nonetheless this is the first full album. Cousti are basically a three piece band: Matt Morrow on lead guitar and Pete Lamb on lead vocals and acoustic guitar are the songwriting partnership and they are backed up by Billy Balkie on bass. Old pals and collaborators help out on drums and a variety of other instruments but the core of this band is the endlessly inventive and relaxed guitar style of Matt Morrow and Pete Lamb’s cooly soulful singing.
There’s a lot of loving care gone into the production of ‘Strings to Tracks’ and it’s really a perfect summer album. There’s a relaxed, dreamy drift to it as the songs are drawn out into long pieces ( no surprise that The Grateful Dead are number one on the list of influences) and Matt Morrow uses a whole shed load of different guitars to create incredibly evocative soundscapes. I’m a complete fan of this guy, I freely admit; I could listen to him play for hours at a time. I have to say that the first time I listened I did wonder more than once how close you can get to someone else’s guitar licks without infringing copywright. On the first few bars of ‘Borderline’, the album opener, you’d swear you were about to hear ‘Paint it Black’; by the time you’ve played the album a few times, though, it all becomes pure Cousti.
There are nine songs on this album with a prevailing gentle sweetness that sometimes disguises a sadness or seriousness in the heart of the lyric. ‘Mallaig’ is a typical example; with a simple chorus line of “such a wonderful day, such a wonderful day..” and the girls cooing away angelically in the background, it might take you a while to notice that this is a break-up song. Especially if, like me, you’re just fixated by the extended electric guitar break that takes the song to fade; it has the same sort of effect on me as the piano ‘outro’ on the end of ‘Layla’.
Cousti aren’t all about instrumental prowess though, by any means. The Grateful Dead may be a cited influence but there are a host of others; I guess there are mostly echoes of the 70’s – Al Stewart, perhaps, or some of The Eagles better moments, especially when Pete and Matt get the vocal harmonies going. There’s plenty of soul in here, too and the album closer ‘What Goes On’ is surely a nod in Marvin Gaye’s direction. In fact, I probably like the soulful songs the best, as they manage to capture something beyond words and music – pure mood. ‘Without You’ is an absolute stonker of a track and the highlight of their set at Belladrum. Pete Lamb’s singing descends from the ether and Matt Morrow gets into the deep blues on the electric guitar -magic stuff. At root, though, I’d say these guys have an appreciation of the value of keeping it simple – of building a simple structure and then using their craftmanship to embellish most beautifully. They’re a band born to make you happy and I reckon ‘Strings to Tracks’ is already firmly in my favourites box.