Music Reviews
North Americans

North Americans

Long Cool World

Third Man Records

I have no words. There aren’t any on this album. What Long Cool World holds for the lyric addicted like me is the opportunity to stop anticipating a “song” to start and just be there for the layers of beauty that can exist without words.

For those unfamiliar, North Americans is the project of guitarist Patrick McDermott and pedal steel player Barry Walker Jr. Neither is a stranger to experimentation with droning and haunting passages that beg the listener to drop notions of what “folk” can sound like. Third Man Records is the perfect home for this duo and anyone they collaborate with. The label that has been home for North Americans since 2020 tirelessly curates artists who push the limits while honoring traditions in any genre.

As I went through the record for the umpteenth time, I remembered my obsession with the Mike Marshall–Darol Anger sound in the 1980s. I rocked my child to sleep and wore out the stack of CDs that pioneered the New Acoustic Movement. North Americans fit right in here. Long Cool World is unmistakably ambient, doused with the pops and creaks of trad country and spaghetti western without patronizing either. McDermott’s calling card is the guitar drone, over which Walker’s pedal steel can drift and punctuate. For this listener, the pedal steel is the lyric. I can actually imagine a line or two being written, but resist the temptation to interrupt what’s happening.

At nine relatively short tracks, the record is the perfect length for contemplation. Favorites include “The Last Rockabilly” and “Western Town, With Road to Mountain,” which carry personal meaning for this dweller of the West and daughter of the South. There is, in fact, a lot of geographic reference in these tracks. Water, rivers, and a sense of place — all are expressed gorgeously without a single word spoken or sung.

Will Long Cool World make it to radio airplay? That’s a tough one. Even noncommercial radio isn’t friendly to ambient instrumental. Advice is handed down in that “tough love” tone by program directors to submit music that is upbeat. If it has to be a melancholy piece, it had better be a really great song. In the case of this partnership and what they are producing, I wouldn’t worry about airplay. I never heard Marshall and Anger on the radio and still found them — way before streaming existed.

I’d recommend seeking this one out. Third Man Records and North Americans have your back here — words to live by, even when there are none.

North Americans


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