Future Country is an album that embodies the idea of musical collaboration and sonic experimentation within the underground country music scene of Northern California. The project, County Well, is led by musician and recording engineer Don Zimmer with the goal of connecting the talents of both local and traveling musicians. "Being free and creative were the main goals of this project," says Zimmer. "And the name County Well comes from the idea of growing the well of musical collaborators in the area."
The genesis of the project was Zimmer connecting with Graham Guest of the Houston, TX based band Moses Guest. "We started writing and collaborating together," says Zimmer, "and then I would use anyone that came by the studio that had musical talent. We just asked ourselves how much fun we could have trying different things." The answer to that question seems to be "a lot," as the album consistently shifts under your feet like a smooth, psychedelic carnival ride.
The album opens with the comforting bluesy swells of a pedal steel guitar, played by Joel Jaffe, on "Alabama," but quickly shifts into an upbeat tempo as drums and bass play in a near-polyrhythmic groove. The album opener sets the stage with punctuated shifts of beats and sounds that are found throughout the album.
Recording projects that have this much collaboration usually lack in a sense of rhythm and groove as musicians typically overplay parts, making the songs sound crowded--like too many people talking in a room. Future Country never allows that to happen. Zimmer starts with distinctive rhythms and determinedly keeps them to the end. "I would start with a click track and build everything from there," says Zimmer. "The rhythmic aspect had to be tightened down. I wanted it to sound like a band playing together."
The second track, "Mrs. Soul" features the talents of Eric Yates from Hot Buttered Rum on flute. Yates, a multi-instrumentalist, is responsible for many of the surprises the album holds. "Eric is so amazing on anything," says Zimmer. "We could say 'let's try a flute' and it works!"
The third track, "Baby," drops the drums from the mix and allows the acoustic instruments to pave the way showing that northern California's history of underground country music is still alive and well. A fun romp with vocal lines and harmonies that could seamlessly transfer to any bluegrass band.
Studio albums can serve as a snapshot of a band's live sound, or they can be treated as a blank canvas with sounds and instruments layered like brushstrokes. Future Country is every bit of the blank canvas project. Zimmer was not confined by recording costs or time constraints and the end result is much more in line with the recording styles of great experimentalists like the Grateful Dead and Barefoot Jerry, but with the carefree vibe of New Riders of the Purple Sage.
Keep an eye out for County Well performances in Northern California as well as Future Country Vol. 2. "I want to build a sense of community around this project," says Zimmer. "So many bands go inside themselves and don't let anyone else in. I want the opposite of that. Some of these musicians have never met each other, I want everyone to meet and be aware of what each other is doing."
- Brian Swenk