Sometimes art (whether music or otherwise) is made with the benefit of the audience in mind. On other occasions, though, art-making is a therapeutic process in which the artist comes to terms with the complexities of life. A powerful example of this second category of art is Other Desert Cities’ sophomore release, the haunting full-length On The Verge Of Collapsing. The CD loosely follows the story of a young man who finds out his lover has died in a tragic car crash, and the stark alt-country songs chronicle the resultant emotional collapse of the young man. The therapeutic value of On The Verge Of Collapsing emerges as the front-man and songwriter of Other Desert Cities, C. Charles Bowden, reportedly faced his own version of emotional and relational loss while recording the disc. By writing and recording material that had such fresh and raw application to his own life, Bowden has created a sincere and profoundly moving account of grief (and ultimately hope) in the face of loss.
While Other Desert Cities’ previous 2002 self-titled disc featured fully-realized alt-country arrangements that sprawled out and unfolded like the desert sky, On The Verge Of Collapsing is a more minimalist affair. The trademark pedal steel, acoustic guitar, harmonica, and Bowden’s vulnerable vocals from the first release remain intact on On The Verge Of Collapsing, but this time the arrangements are laid bare, pushing Bowden’s potent lyrics and earnest delivery to the forefront. Whether singing sweet love songs to his lover (“On Time and the particularly pristine “Darl’n Come Home”), or whether mourning the tragic loss of his wife (“Winter Winds”), Bowden’s character delivers his songs through somber and delicate guitar lines and percussion parts that resemble a rawer Wilco. On other songs, though, Bowden showcases an expanded musical repertoire that highlight the disc’s most dramatic moments. On “These Things Happen”, Bowden’s character learns of his wife’s death amidst an almost Lennonesque chorus with full-band instrumentation sandwiched by a horrifying phone call from a fictitious emergency responder. A mournful trumpet emerges in the mix just as Bowden breaks the listener’s heart with his “Oh my God, she’s dead…I just spoke to her”. “These Things Happen” is masterful (yet nuanced) storytelling set to intriguing music, and the song packs an emotional punch not soon forgotten. Likewise, in the midst of his character’s despair, Bowden guides Other Desert Cities to a Neil Young sounding dark folk rock jam on “Heavy Waters”, complete with jarring distorted guitars and Bowden’s vulnerable falsetto. While each of the 10 tracks (including 2 nicely executed instrumentals, and an excellent cover of Cat Stevens’ “Trouble”) are wonderful and add to the story line. The disc ends on an undeniably high note as Bowden’s character ultimately finds hope in “Heaven Bound Train”. The song is a great old-fashioned rollicking gospel country jam, with a blazing acoustic guitar dueling with a banjo and drums that do their best to mimic the sound of a chugging locomotive. Without sounding contrived or preachy, Bowden brings closure to his story with this joyous song.
One can only guess just how important the making of On The Verge Of Collapsing was to Bowden, and indeed this is not the outlet to be discussing such personal matters. What has been made known to listeners is that On The Verge Of Collapsing was crafted during a particularly trying time in Bowden’s life, and that the creative process behind this touching release helped Bowden through those times. Such facts instantly validate this special recording, but, thankfully, listeners have been invited through the CD’s release to be witness to the power of music. So, now the therapy extends beyond Bowden’s intimate circles to thankful listeners who will undoubtedly apply this story to the difficult instances in their lives. An honest and inspiring CD that is highly recommended both for its lyrical content and sensitive music.