When the Cree Rider Family Band released its first LP, One Night Stand, in late 2013, the group's name felt a little like wishful thinking. Singer and guitarist Cree Rider and his singing partner Cheryl Wilson helmed the songs with little more than an acoustic guitar and their harmonies; the charm and love was audible, but the songs didn't quite fill up a room.
Fast-forward two years and Rider and Wilson are married, with child, and have assembled an intuitive backing band to give country twang and rhythmic grounding to the folk and Americana songs on the new Let the River Rise. So it's hard not to well up with a little goodwill at the opening track, "Family Band," as the duo pair up to share their vision of artistic and matrimonial success. Cree Rider now has a family and a band, and he puts both to great use right out of the gate.
That initial dose of sweetness gets undercut by the next few songs, which take grist from the stuff of lovers' quarrels. "Tell Me Is That Right" (written by "Misisipi" Mike Wolf) finds Rider cataloging his hard-partying, hard-drinking mate's transgressions, and Jordan Heimburger's charging guitar gives a good approximation of a honky-tonk. Suitably, Rider's voice rises to Haggard-like levels. Wilson wrote "Knock Down These Walls" as a duet for lovers in the midst of a communication breakdown, and its clever, overlapping final moments show her deft hand as a lyricist and arranger. (Later, her song "Two Foxes" gives the album both its title and its most expansive, mystical moments.)
Pedal steel and Hammond organ fill in the corners of "County Line," one of several songs that shows Rider is an apt student of how local color and scene-setting can add emotional ballast in a song (even one that could have been titled by the Alt-Country Song Name Generator). That thread follows through on the compelling "Miss Cooper," a tender ballad to an old neighbor and a fading pocket of south St. Louis.
Rider, like most local songwriters, has studied at the knee of the likes of Jay Farrar and Brian Henneman, and he can dial in minute specifics and manage big-picture sweeps. It's one of several moments where the new album benefits from his developing songwriting chops and the Family Band's expansion to a tight and twangy core.
Stream the new album in full below:
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