One of the first things you’re going to read about Country Sleep, whether here or anywhere else, is how the man behind the Night Beds name, 23-year-old Winston Yellens, wound up living in the house that was once home to Johnny and June Cash outside of Nashville. It’s one of those stories that has to be told before you get anywhere near the album itself – Yellens loses almost everything he has – girlfriend, job, his way in life – at home in Colorado and hits the road. Five months later, with a little financial help, he hits the musical real estate jackpot in Hendersonville, Tennessee, there to go to work on his debut album.
You can picture him staring at the old walls of the house, trying to grasp every trace of inspiration as the sounds take shape. ‘Come on Johnny, won’t you speak to me?’ he pleads on ‘Even If We Try‘. But if Cash’s magic has rubbed off in any way, it’s not in the form of a twanging guitar and a deep baritone voice. This is a very different kind of country sound, one that owes more to the cosmic influences of Gram Parsons or, more recently, My Morning Jacket, than to the Man In Black. You can’t imagine Cash opening one of his records with a 73-second cappella like ‘Faithful Heights’…
Yellens says he got the name Night Beds from his method of coming up with so many of his song ideas right before dozing off at night (and from there, of course, there’s no great leap required to get to Country Sleep), and that is precisely the kind of album he has created – a hazy, dreamlike window into his emotions as he rebuilt his world.
It might have been recorded in and around the Music City, but this is not a traditional Nashville sound that Yellens has captured, with the man himself claiming his music owes far more to his Colorado roots than to the Volunteer State. The comparisons with Bon Iver’s For Emma…Forever Ago, both in backstory and sound, are not to difficult to make, while Love Is Hell-era Ryan Adams won’t be far from your mind either.
It’s a deeply personal record, with the likes of ‘Lost Springs’ and ‘Was I For You?’ instant break-up compilation fodder. ‘Borrowed Time’ is a lovely little waltz, but the barely drifting ‘Lost Springs’ is about as urgent as the oft-lethargic seconds half of this record gets. It’s dreamy indeed, but be careful not to actually drift off midway through. And that’s the only slight reservation you can have about this otherwise excellent debut, because when Yellens nails it – most obviously on lead single Ramona – he can create something truly special. Give him a little while longer to marinate in Johnny’s old kitchen and who knows what he can do.