I don’t know what it’s like where you are, but it has been unseasonably cold in the American midwest. The days require a winter jacket if doing outdoor work. One needs an extra blanket to keep warm enough to sleep at night. Flatland Calvary offer a new EP to help, which they appropriately title Songs to Keep You Warm. The primarily acoustic six songs deliver comfort but not much heat—at least in the conventional sense. That’s a good thing!
There are no barn burners or flashy numbers on Songs to Keep You Warm. The players [Cleto Cordero (vocals, acoustic guitar), Jason Albers (drums), Jonathan Saenz (bass), Reid Dillon (electric guitar, harmonica, second fiddle), Wesley Hall (fiddle) and Adam Gallegos (piano, keys, mandolin, banjo, electric guitar)] don’t take blistering solos or excitedly jam. Instead, there’s a calmness to the whole affair. Cordero, who wrote all the tracks, generally sings in a tranquil voice, even when describing the pain of lost love. He said he wrote these songs in the spring after being mentally and physically exhausted from being on the road and thought they would be most appropriately released when the weather changed. The half-dozen tracks express a sense of surrender.
“How long, how long, is it gonna take? / How long does a (pause) heart break?” Cordero asks in “How Long” behind a poker face. The answer seems to be blown in the wind, literally. Producer Bruce Robison captures the sound of the wind in the background; it may just be the drummer gently tapping the cymbals and letting the reverberations spread like sonic ripples. The quiet spaciousness of the cut suggests the breadth and depth of the narrator’s hurt more than a howl ever could.
This contrariness works in Flatland Cavalry’s favor. They call themselves flatlanders, but the first cut on the EP is “Mountain Song”, which praises the natural beauty of the cliffs and the sky. This type of literary playfulness endows words with more than one meaning. Is it the face of the precipice or perhaps that of his former lover that he sees when he gazes upward at the bluffs? The singer reminds one the answer again can be (ambiguously) found in the breeze. In this case, it smells of “Pinon perfume blowin’ in the wind” rather than makes a sound.
The six tracks on Songs to Keep You Warm address the human flaws of the narrators with the situations in which they have found themselves. They submit to their fates, knowing that time changes everything, including themselves. “I remember when I was just / 17 years old,” begins “Damaged Goods” as the vocalist recalls a time of innocence and pain. Now he wonders what has happened to that person he used to be.
Ashley Monroe sings in unison with Cordero on “Parallel” to suggest the couple are in step with each other, but the song’s title implies their “living and loving” hasn’t really brought them any closer. The double meaning of the term – being parallel implies their equivalence and the fact that they will never meet – reveals that closeness does not necessarily mean being close.
The other songs, “If We Said Goodbye” and “Show Me the Way to Go”, use the details of past love affairs to reveal what’s missing in the singer’s life now that the relationships are over. Cordero may be loveless, but he understands he needs to find another lover. He remembers the old feelings as a way to find comfort in the present. The embers of past fires keep him warm.