Alright, hands up; who amongst us drizzle soaked, mass marketed, 9-5 Brits have the image of country music firmly imbedded in chequered shirts, straw hay bails, and cowboy hats on everybody? I thought as much, and I too once followed this belief which was brought about by mocked images of seventies country musicians interspersed on TV programmes poking fun at the image, rather than talk about the music. But no more, I’ve fought for my education, and now let me help you destroy the image of a Dolly Parton and Garth Brooks, by introducing to you Headwater.
With their second album Lay You Down, the Canadians echo a melancholic Midwestern Americana with beautifully downbeat plucked guitar strings and distant vocals, as on album highlight ‘Pleasure And The Rhyme’ and the equally down trodden ‘Under The Rocks And Stones’. It’s the same beauty that’s reminiscent of Dolorean’s ‘Violence In The Snowy Fields’, as the vocal duties of Jonas Shandel and Matt Bryant echo a certain heart ache only experience and life can force upon you.
But for those who long for head-bobbing, knee-bending, thumbs-in-braces, fast-paced numbers, Headwater regularly break out the slide guitar and twang their banjo to create bittersweet thigh slapping moments of unadulterated country hysteria with the likes of ‘Brown Stone Road’ and ‘Picture Show’ bizarrely sounding like Lemonheads, if they wore cowboy hats everywhere.
While there is an audience for their racier numbers, to hear the beauty of a plucked banjo or a slowly strung guitar menacingly accompanying a youthful, yet experienced vocal, makes you realise where Headwater’s strength and progression will lay in the future. It may not be good for their mental states, but, for the good of music, the band should all grow beards, focus on all the hurt, pain, and despair the world can offer, and sing their broken hearts out. People may call it depressing, people may call it painful, but, after hearing the dusk-lit sadness on Lay You Down, the majority will call it a necessary beauty… and not a cowboy hat in sight.
Words: Peter Clark