The Chymical Vegas Wedding of Joe Cassady And The West End Sound
I’ve seen New York’s Joe Cassady And The West End Sound at Belladrum Festival two years running and absolutely loved ’em each time: ‘a classic rock band with a star guitarist’ is how I described them and that’s pretty much how they come over in a live setting. (see fan video below) I was perplexed that their first two cds didn’t have the oomph that they deliver on stage but with the arrival of this, their third album, I guess my view is going to be that they’re a band with two characters. Again, the sound on disc tends towards the restrained, lyrical and wistful; you can hear the rock party starting on a few songs, for sure, but they don’t catch quite light in the way things do on stage.
This, however, is not a problem because the music on this cd is, I think, something of what Gram Parsons had in mind when he talked about his Cosmic American Music or whatever his phrase was. Fusing elements of country music – there’s some pickin’ and some twang in there – with a basic rock sensibility, the thing that really makes this band distinctive is Joe Cassady himself. On stage he kind of looks like a trendy college teacher on play day in his cordurouy jacket and hiding a little behind his spectacles and unruly hair. Listen to the words he’s singing though and you soon realise that this is a man with a very individual take on life and one who’s chronicling the America he finds around him. Questioning all the givens that other people take at face value and wrestling with the dark side of life, he’s certainly a man with something to say. As with so many American songsters, Jesus does keep cropping up, but I guess he did for Gram, too. The thing is, with Joe’s lyrical preoccupations he could easily have ended up singing solo in coffee bars, just him and his guitar. It seems incongruous that he should have ended up fronting a rock band but it works really well. There’s a wry humour in his writing – witness the song ‘We All Tour With Elvis’ (i.e. on The Great Tour In The Sky) – which works well with the cheerful barroom rock of his band; it’s the end of the world as we know it but we’ll all feel fine with this lot.
There’s a suspicion that he doesn’t have too many melodies up his sleeve; some of these songs sound like numbers from previous albums. The same charge has been levelled at much bigger bands, though, and besides Joe’s got a wonder guitarist in Shu Nakamura who comes up with no end of joyful instrumental breaks to cover his tracks. With a lot of bands you get a sense of the career trajectory, from breakthrough hit to losing the plot in search of a mature sound. I don’t think these guys will have that problem. They kind of sound like they’ve been around forever and will be around for a long time to come, doing that Joe Cassady thing. As for ‘The Chymical Wedding…’ , if you want an explanation of the title best check out Joe’s tale on his website.