Kapow Music: A Texan in Europe Revisited (Bu Hanan Records, 2004)

by Brent
KapowI’ll admit that I’ve had Kapow Music’s A Texan in Europe Revisited for quite a while. I’ve struggled in reviewing it, though. As much as I enjoy this 11 track full-length CD from Chapel Hill, North Carolina’s Bu Hanan Records, my words fail me as I try to describe the music. Is it alt-country? Electronica? Ambient pop? Folk? Singer-songwriter? Somehow, front man John Ribo has been able to craft pretty yet irreverent songs that defy description. Employing a wide range of guest musicians who bring life into guitars, banjos, violins, drums, drum machines, field recordings, and other instruments recorded with a warm lo-fi ethos, A Texan in Europe Revisited is a puzzling and dazzling work of harmonized disparate sounds.

It’s clear after even a cursory listen of A Texan in Europe Revisited that Ribo is the main attraction, with his endearingly unpolished vocals and southern songwriting sensibilities bringing to mind Zach Gresham (of Summer Hymns), or even Raymond Raposa of Castanets. A Texan in Europe Revisited follows a similar (if more pastoral) vibe as those two unique artists. And, like these other artists, Ribo seems content to encase his well-balanced and catchy melodies in a production that borders on experimentalism, while deeply rooted in traditional American music. That Ribo can combine the best of modern experiment with country and western music, while STILL allowing his songs to shine through, is no small feat.

After a brief instrumental introduction consisting of picked guitars over looped percussive and guitar sounds, A Texan in Europe Revisited begins in earnest with “Just a Boy I”. Featuring lyrics that hint at a rural southern/western lifestyle, harmonica, picked guitars, and Ribo’s drawling vocals, “Just a Boy I” is more than a subtle nod to country music. The sounds of fax machines and keyboards open the irresistibly catchy “Ma Tutrice”. With drum machines and other strange sounds intertwined with the country influences, the song is a wonderful blend of varying styles and sounds. The lyrics also feature a blend of English and French phrases, tying in Ribo’s lyrical and musical theme of a Texan living in France. His carefully and subtly weaved narrative continues throughout the whole of A Texan in Europe Revisited, uniting the songs as an interesting whole, but Ribo is also able to craft such unique individual songs, and this talent often overshadows the overall concept (not necessarily a bad thing). After “Ma Tutrice” ends in a semi-psychedelic freak-out, the following “Ease” begins. With lyrics referencing “Amazing Grace”, “Ease” is a song of grace and wonder, and this sentiment is only augmented by Ribo’s tender melody and atmospheric flourishes. “Rainy Day”, with its down-home beat and wistful harmonica, could be lifted off of one of my parents’ old country and western records. “Day = Night” starts as a gentle ballad, sung in a sincere manner over sparse instrumentation, before emerging as a dreamy concoction of atmospheric sonics. “Année Sans Eté” features more French vocals that are also heavily effected and layered, as well as strings, guitars, and a lushness that is reminiscent of a Michigan-era Sufjan Stevens. “Just There” has more of an indie-rock-influenced-with-subtle-electronics feel, with its distorted guitars mingling with electronic sounds. “Cycles” is a highlight of A Texan in Europe Revisited, with its touching melody and sombre mood. “Just a Boy II” is a campy and fun take on the first track, with the band sounding like a lost hick band rollicking out on a hot Saturday night somewhere in the south. Finally, “One-Way Train” rounds out A Texan in Europe Revisited featuring a picked acoustic guitar and harmonica backing up Ribo’s soft vocals, before eventually giving way to more surprises for the listener some time later…

All in all, Bu Hanan Records has again released a memorable and engaging collection of songs with a singular artistic vision. I’m not sure how the label is able to find such unique artists who create such quality music, but with Kapow Music, they’ve done it again. Kapow Music, a seemingly and criminally unknown band, has recorded a fine full-length that will relax and inspire the listener. A Texan in Europe Revisited will appeal to fans of the alt-country and singer/songwriter subgenres who are looking for something a little different in their music collection. The aforementioned Summer Hymns, Castanets, and Sufjan Stevens, as well as label mate (and Kapow Music guest musician) David Karsten Daniels are good reference points for Kapow Music.

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