Review of Cody Canada and the Departed, This is Indian Land
When the hard-touring country-rock quartet Cross Canadian Ragweed announced last year that they were taking a hiatus—after 9 albums and 15 years on the road—their cult-like fan base hoped that CCR front man Cody Canada would emerge with a new band, which he did, in the form of The Departed. The five-man group features the charismatic Canada on lead guitar and vocals; CCR’s superb bassist, Jeremy Plato; blues-rocker Seth James on guitars and vocals; Steve Littleton (from the Tulsa-based Medicine Show) on keyboards; and Dave Bowen on drums. The Departed’s self-produced debut album, just released, is This is Indian Land, a tribute to Canada’s “Red Dirt” musical heritage in Oklahoma.
The 15 songs are covers of Oklahoma songwriters such as J.J. Cale (“If You’re Ever in Oklahoma”), Leon Russell (“Home Sweet Oklahoma”), Kevin Welch, and members of the Red Dirt scene (Bob Childers, Tom Skinner, Randy Crouch, Scott Evans), all of whom influenced Canada as a budding musician in Stillwater, Oklahoma. (Littleton penned “Any Other Way” with Brad James while with Medicine Show.) Canada lived for a while at Childers’ funky Stillwater compound, nicknamed “The Farm,” where in the late 1980’s and 1990’s the Red Dirt Rangers, Jason Boland, Stoney LaRue, Mike McClure and others experimented with the musical genre blending Western swing, blues, honky tonk, and rock, which now characterizes the Austin alt-country scene.
But The Departed are not CCR, and This is Indian Land is not entirely alt-country. The dueling guitars and keyboards—both new for CCR fans—infuse a bluesy sound that varies from psychedelic (“Face on Mars,” “Hold on Christian”) to jazz (“Kickin’ Back in Amsterdam”) to Motown/funk (“True Love Never Dies”). “Any Other Way” and “Years in the Making” recall the early Allman Brothers. Littleton’s excellent keyboards are showcased on “Starin’ Down the Sun” and “If You’re Ever in Oklahoma.” The Departed depart from CCR’s formula in other ways. The blues ballad “Water Your Own Yard” (with harmony vocals by Stoney LaRue) invokes the retro sound popularized by producer T Bone Burnett. The line-up of This is Indian Land is more versatile than standard CCR fare and accompanists are used to good effect, such as the tasty Dobro work by Geoff Queen and harmony vocals by Jessica Murray on “Make Yourself Home.” “Long Way to Nowhere” features lead vocals by Plato and lead guitar by Reckless Kelly’s Dave Abeyta. But fans of CCR will not be disappointed. “Ballad of Rosalie,” written by Randy Pease, features the familiar sound of Canada’s rocking guitar and lead vocals. And “A Little Rain Will Do” and “Skyline Radio” are mainstream alt-country.
For a nostalgia-based tribute album, This is Indian Land is remarkably diverse, and satisfying. CCR fans can be relieved that in The Departed Canada has found a platform that complements his formidable talents (including, although not evident here, song writing) and eagerly await a release of original material. Perhaps the demise of CCR is what Canada needed to realize his long-overdue commercial success.