Cowboy Nation – McCabe’s (Santa Monica, CA)
Chip and Tony Kinman sure have wandering musical spirits. Initially punk rockers singing “I Hate The Rich” in the Dils, the band helped usher in cowpunk in the early ’80s as Rank & File, who, really, were more pop than punk. With that scene fizzling, R&F moved more toward hard rock; soon the band fizzled too. The brothers resurfaced in the clubs of Los Angeles as Blackbird, which positioned them as a duo with a drum machine in a murky concept that suggested the gloomy industrial pop of the Jesus & Mary Chain.
Nowadays the brothers play acoustic instruments and feature a drummer who manipulates little more than a bass drum and a high-hat. They wear cowboy hats as wide as sombreros and are known to crack into an occasional “yee haw” in the middle of songs peppered with images of saddles, coyotes, prairies. Welcome to Cowboy Nation, the Kinman brothers’ foray into cowboy songs and the Wild West.
Sound kinda schticky? Well it should, cuz it is. Not necessarily bad, mind you, but definitely hokey. Their hour-long set for some three-dozen folks at McCabe’s Guitar Shop featured songs that weeped like the cowpoke sitting around the campfire and galloped like the bankrobber getaway. “My Rifle, My Pony And Me”, “Coyote” (a survivor from the R&F days) and well-traveled covers such as “The Alamo” proved to respect the Western tradition while still allowing room for the Kinmans’ own unique charms. Fans of Rank & File will recall that when Tony’s bassoon-like lead vocals mesh with Chip’s Everly-esque soprano, the sound is something to behold. Cowboy Nation did not disappoint in this regard.
But Cowboy Nation is like the aural equivalent to those booths at carnivals where you get a sepia-toned photo of yourself dressed up in some sort of Western get-up. It’s just too make-believe, which, ultimately, is what is so maddening about the obviously talented Kinmans. Punk to cowpunk to hard rock to gloom to home on the range — you wish they’d just stop pre-conceiving, grab whatever instruments they most love and write the songs that come naturally to them. Now that could really be something worth yee-hawin’ about.