At one time, extended instrumental beauty, as is executed on Erik Deutsch’s Outlaw Jazz, dominated the airwaves. In our universe however, where a concise melody and less thoughtfulness in song structure constitutes a more attractive commodity, there may be a few fewer outlets for such a well-hewn and uniquely developed album. Nonetheless, Outlaw Jazz serves as a sturdy signpost both in a new direction and as a throwback to that period where well-executed, well-written rock music was a mainstay of pop consumption.
With this album, Erik Deutsch brings to the table a crack team of music compatriots capable of pulling off his songs with aplomb: a snappy rhythm section that is on point throughout. In addition to these fine musicians, Deutsch calls in, among others, such players as Jon Graboff and Tony Leone, players who in certain circles represent a very high standard for tasteful accompaniment and whose involvement significantly ups the ante of Outlaw Jazz. Primarily an album focused on crystalline instrumental arrangements, names such as Shooter Jennings and Victoria Reed grace the few but central vocal arrangements.
The album kicks off with a strong, riff-oriented instrumental that is instantly catchy. A horn section punctuates the dominant theme of “country boogie,” a theme permeating throughout the record. Right from go, Deutsch is able to saddle together some otherwise incongruous elements – cowboy swing; big-band west music. These seemingly archaic constructs – almost a perfect reference to the big “Western swing” bands of the 1920s and ‘30s – sound perfectly at home and modern on this album.
Continuing in that vein, Victoria Reed’s at once smooth and sultry vocals on “Dearest Darling” capture one of the catchiest moments of the record. Again, the Western swing style is in full effect – along with catchy horn riffs that punch throughout the tune – and Reed’s vocals are perfectly suited for this throwback style.
Outlaw Jazz exists almost within a perfect vacuum, but not in an irrelevant or mundane manner. The extended instrumentals of “Ballad of San Pancho,” and the Rolling Stones cover “Wild Horses” – while perfectly suited for album-oriented rock radio of FM yore – also crystallize a longing feeling that is all too rare in modern pop country.
“Pickle” in particular is a wonderfully executed song whose horn arrangements cohabitate with the country/western lope of the main melody. Erik Deutsch is able to capture some of the most interest elements of swing-era jazz and combine them with a catchy western sensibility that the album makes clear is important to him, although that sensibility today may not be well-represented on mainstream country radio.
It should be mentioned that there are moments of strangely exotic experimentation on Outlaw Jazz which result in mixed results. The melody of Shooter Jennings’s ridiculously catchy tears-in-your-beer ballad “Whistlers and Jugglers” has some moments of Pink Floyd-esque guitar and keyboard instrumentation which yield mixed results; although interesting, the more atmospheric keyboard effects feel dated and forced.
In all, Outlaw Jazz is a unique and fascinating experiment in modern country, where a capable and intelligent instrumentalist writes bright and catchy arrangements evocative of a completely different era into songs with modern sensibilities. A couple decades earlier, and there would be at least two, or perhaps three charting singles produced from this work. In our modern era, only those inclined to seek out really unique musical experiments will be rewarded with the fascinating arrangements that Erik Deutsch has here produced.