In an age when independence is idolized and every person seems to be seeking their own lone wolf career path, Seattle-based roots band Western Centuries believe that the way forward is better together. Collaboration, inspiration and mutual admiration are what Cahalen Morrison, Ethan Lawton, and Jim Miller cite as the heart of their project. Western Centuries are set to release their third album, Call the Captain—a tongue-in-cheek reference to the band’s lack of hierarchy—on April 3rd via Free Dirt Records. Yesterday, Billboard premiered “Heart Broke Syndrome,” the album’s first single and one of the two tracks on Call the Captain which include guest vocals from the King of Broken Hearts himself, Nashville songwriter and entertainer, Jim Lauderdale. “This song, written for a close friend, talks about the recovery process when the sudden loss of someone innocent and dear brings on grief so severe that it induces physical symptoms requiring medical attention,” says Miller, a founding member of roots-jam band Donna The Buffalo and lead vocalist on “Heart Broke Syndrome.” “The last verse tries to project some hope; that our community of family and friends can help provide strength to get through the dark time.” Pre-order Call the Captain here.
Throughout Call the Captain, three-part vocal harmonies add heft and meaning to each song, with a distinct rhythmic agreement among the singers, revealing a shared belief of just how music should be made. The album was recorded and mixed in the studio of Grammy-nominated producer Bill Reynolds, former bass player for Band of Horses and one of Nashville’s most innovative roots music producers. “Even if there are drums, electric guitars, and synthesizers, we all like to come at the music in a similar way as we would approach a bluegrass song; supporting the lead singer, singing harmonies, and letting the instrumentalists be featured,” explains Morrison.
On songs like “Long Dreadful Journey” and “Dynamite Kid,” Western Centuries offer, unsurprisingly for such an egalitarian outfit, harsh criticism of dogmatic belief systems and the ways they’ve been contorted to further self-righteous ideals for thousands of years. On the topic of colonialism, the band takes on President Trump’s proposed sixth branch of the armed forces in “Space Force” with satirical lyrics pondering what it would be like to join. “We’ll cruise around the galaxy taking all the bad guys down. Our crimes will be forgotten, ‘cause the Space Dogs are back in town.” The song’s nostalgic 1980s-influenced production hearkens back to a decade known as the Shuttle Era and American pride in the space race.
Lawton, Morrison, and Miller are joined on the record by a world-class cast of musicians, many of whom have made a name for themselves outside of Western Centuries. Nokosee Fields, who plays bass on the album, is better known as an award-winning old-time fiddle player. Thomas Bryan Eaton, known for his work with Miss Tess, plays inspired pedal steel on all 12 tracks of Call the Captain while Oliver Bates Craven, formerly of the Stray Birds, plays fiddle. Jim Lauderdale sings harmony vocals on two tracks, as well as lead on the final verse of “Space Force.” Additional cameos include John Pahmer on keyboards and Miller’s Donna The Buffalo bandmate Tara Nevins on tambourine.
With Call the Captain, Western Centuries offer an embarrassment of musical riches. The band demonstrates what is possible when ego steps aside in favor of collaboration—the virtuosity of the group remains understated, but their ability to perfectly complement one another reveals the finest in each songwriter along the way.
Catch Western Centuries On Tour:
April 1 – Northampton, MA – The Parlor Room
April 2 – Somerville, MA – The Burren
April 3 – Hudson, NY – Club Helsinki
April 10 – Elkin, NC – The Reeves Theater
April 18 – Brooksville, FL – Stringbreak
June 11 – Seattle, WA – Tractor Tavern
June 13 – Prosser, WA – Brewminatti
June 19-21 – San Luis Obispo, CA – Live Oak Music Festival
June 25-28 – Laytonville, CA – Kate Wolf Festival
July 4-5 – Sherman, NY – Great Blue Heron Festival