Scarlet Skies: Rockin’ Up The Country

midnight northSome music is iced by time. It heats up, boils and then cools before its cyrogenic freezing in its time and place and style.

Exhibit A? Disco. But I’m not reviewing Random Access Memories this article, nah, I’m moving directly on to Exhibit B, country-rock.

So I’ll admit, I’m still digging through the trenches of music to find more bands that incorporate a style reminiscent of The Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Eagles or, god help us, Tom Petty (“Last Dance With Mary Jane” is where that relationship begins and ends).

And it’s funny when music kind of, I dunno, moves on from a genre or an artist (paging all boybands ever made, ever). If anything, it confirms the public burnout but can also damn some genres to the abyss wherein they will never be examined again.

Not until some intrepid French duo decides to re-energize it with a multiple-grammies-winning-return-to-form-album. But once again, I digress, country-rock may never have its own French robots.

But that would be disservice to the work that Midnight North put into their latest album, Scarlet Skies. Rock-steady and solid, Midnight North puts the rock back into country-rock and pins it there, because if it left then my brains would bleed out my ears.

Country-rock is the best country

Let’s bite this bullet first and say it:

I hate country.

Scratch that: I hate the routine of country. The dullness of the same bloody clichés all the damn time. Most modern country reminds me of a bastard version of the blues.

It’s like someone tried to play like Stevie Ray Vaughan but instead plays likes your hillbilly uncle Ruckus with a banjo. I’ll pass.

However, when an artist looks at the themes of country, the story-telling aspect in particular and backs that with some good bluegrass instrumentation, duet harmonies and, well, goddamn I’ll spell it out:



1 violinist.

1 lead guitarist.

1 bass guitarist.

1 mandolin/rhythm guitarist.

1 drummer.

Pick 2 or 3 of these roles to be vocalists (bonus points if one is as kickass as Elliott Peck).


It’s that simple. And if everyone on that list is capable of playing well, then the album just falls in place. And that’s the beauty of Scarlet Skies, no joke.

There could be hundreds of good country albums out there, I don’t care, I haven’t made my way towards them yet nor do I know if I will. Instead, Midnight North went out and blew my brains with a solid rediscovery of why country actually can rock.

It starts with “Phoenix Motel” and continues with “The Cactus Tree,” both of which make a point to talk about the loneliness of the road as veritable deserts.

But you know what’s funny about it? The rockers aren’t even the best fucking tracks on the album.

Yeah, “Phoenix Motel” and “The Cactus Tree” are good — great, even, they rock out with their country out. They set the table for what Midnight North is about to serve up. But I’ll be damned if “Lucky One” and “The Right Time” don’t send cold shivers down my arms as I digest this album and type.

They hit this beautiful node of emotion: the weariness and the wont for warmness. More simply they are songs for home. Between these two beautiful compositions, I could not pick a favourite.

Overall, those four tracks alone are worth the price of dinner. The rest depends on your opinion of steamed vegetables. I consider “Turn Around” and “Wind and Roses” to be like steamed broccoli and cauliflower. Simply delicious.

But I consider “Stayin’ Single, Drinkin’ Doubles” to be steamed carrots. It’s the purest country track on the album and it may be someone’s jam, but it sure as hell ain’t mine.

Really though, Grahame Lesh and Alex Jordan sing like honey while Elliott Peck throws in the spice to the three-part harmonies. Meanwhile, Connor “Croon” O’Sullivan and Eric Saar are rock solid rhythm makers.

Specifically, Elliott Peck deserves a beer or two or twenty for the vocal work she put into this album. She rocks this album.

But all of them can rock the shit out of a live crowd. I will say that with as much conviction as Midnight North put into their cover of “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” at Oregon Country Fair. They knocked it out of the park there and they back  it up with this disc.

Hell, they got me to like a country a little bit more. Getting me to reexamine my relationship with a genre of music deserves only one thing: respect.

Grade: B

Producer: Emery Barter, Connor O’Sullivan & Grahame Lesh

Track Listing:

  1. “Phoenix Motel” (Country-rock)
  2. “Lucky One” (J’aime – I like it)
  3. “The Cactus Tree” (Country-rock)
  4. “Turn Around”
  5. “Stayin’ Single, Drinkin’ Doubles” (For you, lovers of country music)
  6. “Wind and Roses”
  7. “The Right Time” (J’aime beaucoup – I like it a lot)
  8. “Quiet Strangers”
  9. “The Stranger”

Buy the album here.





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About BenJamsToo

A young dude with an old soul from Portland, OR but currently teaching and writing in rural France. A lover of rock n roll since his mother first spun The Police’s “Roxanne,” he’s also dabbler in soul, funk, jazz, blues, electronic and hip-hop. Perhaps it’s easier to list what he doesn’t like; most gangster rap, country-western and modern metal disagrees with his stomach. Spends all day wondering what Ruban Nielson eats for breakfast, why Danger Mouse hasn't made a through and through GOOD record since St. Elsewhere, if Kamasi Washington is the Kanye West of jazz and just what the hell people hear in mumble rap. Between those things he writes for Atwood and his own blog, Come here for the nice clean thoughts; go there for the ramblings of an insane man.