Once again, please forgive the departure in topics, but this, I think, is probably one of Central Louisiana’s most newsworthy stories of the year (and I know I’m sounding hyperbolic). This is a music review. If you don’t care for music or reviews, read no further.
Update: To hear “The Flight,” a song from Cozy and the Pony’s debut EP, click here.
Cozy and the Pony, the Alexandria-based folk-soul-rock band (or whatever you prefer to call their sound), is set to release their debut EP on July 14th. And though the album won’t hit the streets until then (and by hit the streets, I mean, literally, they’re debuting the album on July 14th with a street party on Third Street in Alexandria), you all deserve fair warning, because supplies are limited. And because, well, it’s the most exciting indie rock debut album to emerge out of Louisiana since the birth of the Elephant Six Collective (Though they claim Athens, Georgia, we can still claim them; they’re all originally from Ruston).
Cozy and the Pony’s debut EP is a fully-formed, powerful, and gothic country/soul/folk rock album, and it marks their emergence with an emphatic exclamation.
Late this afternoon, I had the chance to listen to an advanced copy of the album with John Bowling, their drummer. I had told him I’d be willing to promote the album release party on CenLamar, provided he’d let me hear the album first.
Cozy and the Pony is a four-piece. Their drummer is John, of course, Elizabeth Spurgeon is on the bass, Roxanne Randow plays the flute, the slide guitar, and occasionally does some exceptional singing, and her husband Rob Randow is the lead singer and guitarist. Rob also writes all of the songs. Although the four-piece Cozy and the Pony has only been playing together since January, Rob and Roxanne have been writing and performing music together for the past seven years.
John came by after work. John works in the medical industry and wears scrubs out of necessity and not as any type of fashion statement. I’ve known John for a few years. He married one of my cousins, and I suppose one may accuse me of being biased based on this fact. I’m fine with that. Because the album speaks for itself.
I listened to their debut the way most people listen to music: in my car. John and a friend of mine rode out to Kincaid Lake, because there’s this great panoramic vista in an undeveloped subdivision I wanted them to see. On the way out there, while listening to the first song, entitled “Carnivals,” a song about nostalgia, I thought about location, our location, the music that grows out of our State, recognizing also that, for the first time, I was listening to an album composed of my favorite type of music– homegrown soul rock– that had been completely conjured up and produced by people all born and raised right here in Alexandria. Even the guy who mixed the album in Nashville, Josey Swift, was born and raised in Alexandria.
Most songwriters like to tell you that their songs are about whatever you want them to be about. Songwriters can be elliptical and convoluted when talking about their own work.
But Rob Randow is pretty straightforward, even if he does sometimes speak with the same lyrical language he infuses in his music. Concerning “Carnivals,” Rob told me the song is “like the street you used to live on, but you can never go back to your house.” And maybe that is why the song reminded me of location, because that is Louisiana, at least for some of us. For me, the intent is pretty clear, and the song itself is a slow waltz.
Rob says his influences are Gram Parsons, the Byrds, and Jackson Browne, and you can hear all of this in his voice. But in the second track, an upbeat Southern indie pop song entitled “The Flight,” you can also hear traces of Anton Newcombe, the brilliant and conflicted lead singer of The Brian Jonestown Massacre. This is not to take away from Cozy and the Pony’s originality, because, in my opinion, the song does something Anton never does; it is unapologetically not ironic. (If you want to know more about The Brian Jonestown Massacre, I suggest first watching the movie “Dig!”). But Cozy and the Pony is not The Brian Jonestown Massacre; they are not beaten-down or drug-addled and they do not thank God for mental illness.
The third song on the EP, “Bottle of Stars,” is a whimsical Southern hymn. In fact, on the whole, that is how I’d describe the entire EP: a collection of Southern rock n’ roll hymns, each emerging from different places but each with a common soul. “Bottle of Stars” is like an old song pieced back together. Rob sings, “I want a fancy bottle of stars/I want to learn how to get that far/So I sold my land and bought a flying van.” When I asked Rob about the song’s meaning, he asked me when was the last time I’d seen a flying van. Fair enough. The song is an absurdist dream, and every good album needs one of those.
By the time we had reached track four, John, my friend, and I had made it to Kincaid Lake. Track four is actually two songs put together as one. They had opted against separating the songs, because the uninterrupted segue between the first song and the second song was important, they said. The first song or Part A, if you prefer, “History’s Mystery,” is, according to Rob, a narrative about “music itself.” It, like the three songs before it, may also be aptly described as Southern Gothic, but not gothic like an Ann Rice novel and not gothic like high school kids dressed in all black; gothic as in transcendently haunting. Which is why I understand, at least, the need to preserve the uninterrupted segue into the second song, “Spare a Leaf,” a song that finally takes the album to its much-anticipated crescendo. And sure, the crescendo may be somewhat buried (within a song about the need for shelter), but it seems to fit well within the album’s overall movement, where Cozy and the Pony wants to take listeners, that is.
The final song, “Dead Horse,” is a song about “the last fallen Comanche chief,” says Rob, “and the idea that he’ll ride again.” And it’s the perfect way to end the EP: a song about nostalgia for an alternative history and the hope, even if it is merely an absurd (and again, haunting) dream that things will happen or could have happened differently.
It is difficult for someone like me, also being born and raised in Alexandria, to listen to an album like Cozy and the Pony’s self-titled debut EP and not think about the role of our shared geography. Because it has always been my belief that music is not merely divinely inspired or inherited; it comes from the soil, from the places we call or have called home, the sounds that fill our churches and schools and echo on our streets. And when listening to this album, one can hear the first breath of a new Louisiana sound– a sound that revels and enjoys its country roots, one that appreciates and defers to the spiritual soulfulness of a Louisiana not long forgotten, and one that blindsides you with a nostalgia for things past and things imagined.
Cozy and the Pony has produced a complex, erudite, and stirring EP, and we should all be thankful to have these artists as members of our community.