Go west, young band

Pub date April 10, 2007
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features

Sometimes you get lucky. Every week I have to find a picture to run in the club guide, and one week I picked Low Red Land. They later sent me a self-released 2006 CD titled The Weight of Nations. The disc stayed in my truck’s deck for a week.

The trio of 26-year-olds — Mark Devito on drums, Ben Thorne on bass, and Neil Thompson on guitar and vocals — is also no stranger to intuition. Having met at Hamilton College in New York, they’d originally been a four-piece called Great American with another college buddy, Matthew Stringer. After graduating, the four moved to Boston, where they put out a self-titled, self-released EP and album. When Stringer left to go to med school, the rest of the bandmates knew they wanted to continue playing and move to San Francisco. They renamed themselves Low Red Land after a lyric in a Larry Jon Wilson song, "Ohoopee River Bottom Land."

The moniker is fittingly evocative: it speaks of the sage-and-sand-filled expanses of their journey west, of red dirt cliffs and winding rivers. This unexpectedly rangy, Western feeling fills The Weight of Nations, though being from the "totally podunk" coal-mining town of Shickshinny, Pa., Thompson can assure you that the East can be just as country as anywhere else.

While the album is "intensely personal" for Thompson, it also contains subtly penned protest songs in the fine though rare tradition of Woody Guthrie’s "This Land Is Your Land." "You’re Alive" is about the death of Thompson’s childhood friend, Michael Cleary, a first lieutenant in the Army, in a roadside bomb attack in Iraq. And for me, that’s the key to The Weight of Nations: the protests are personal, soaked in sadness, and set against the American tapestry in a way that calls to mind the poetic scope of Hart Crane’s The Bridge. It’s easy to see why the group has been likened to Crazy Horse, though I’d pick Creedence Clearwater Revival meets the Meat Puppets. "As long as the bands aren’t bad, I’m pretty psyched," Thompson says of these comparisons. "Somebody said we sound like the Dave Matthews Band. I was bummed out for the whole day." (Duncan Scott Davidson)


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