Correction: I stand by everything I said about the male lead singer for Thrift Store Cowboys except his name. I was working from incomplete personnel info, and I mistakenly identified him as Kris Killingsworth. In fact, Daniel Fluitt sings his own words, which makes a lot more sense. Mea culpa.
Thrift Store Cowboys have pounding drums and a throbbing bass that they top off with three guitars, including screaming lines from the two lead players. Thrift Store Cowboys have an inventive drummer and solid bass player; to that they add acoustic guitar, banjo, accordion, and fiddle, for some wonderfully creative arrangements. Lead singer Kris Killingsworth has a voice with the same quality as Sting’s, but Killingsworth uses this voice to release pent-up emotions in a completely unmasked way. Lead singer Amanda Shires sings in an intimate, somewhat breathy alto that sounds like someone confiding a secret. All of this could easily describe at least two bands, but there is only one. All of this could describe an album that comes apart at the seams, with too many different styles adding up to chaos. Chaos threatens all the time here, but Thrift Store Cowboys never succumb to it. In the end, Light Fighter is an album about not falling apart, but barely. The varying arrangements actually serve to strengthen this theme, and it adds up to an album of real power.
The second song on the album is Bright Fire. This one is an all out rocker. It’s a very good example of this kind of song, but, if it had been the only song I heard, I probably would not have accepted this album for review. I enjoy subtlety and quieter arrangements. But luckily, I knew there was more going on here. In the course of discovering this album, I found that the outright rockers like Bright Fire and Regardless are some of the hookiest songs you are likely to hear. The quieter songs like Scary Weeds and Nothing are more acoustic, and they have a feel that I would call gothic Americana.
You Can’t See the Light is the perfect place to hear Kris Killingsworth’s vocals at their best. The song is about a man who goes emotionally numb on learning of the death of his brother, and the song is the moment when he is finally able to unleash his feelings, all in one burst. That is exactly what Killingsworth’s vocals sound like throughout this album; the songs sound like he has to sing them, because there is no other way for him to release his emotions. Amanda Shires sings lead only on the two songs here that she wrote, Scary Weeds and Lean Into the Sway. Some decent quality horror films have a sequence where a young couple become more and more frightened as omens and portents accumulate; Shires conveys that feeling perfectly in Scary Weeds. Lean Into the Sway is a song of slightly requited love; both the love and a hint of desperation come through beautifully in Shires’ performance here. So, with just two songs to do it, Shires shows off her impressive emotional range as a singer. She gets more opportunities to show off the emotional range of her fiddle playing. She can vary her tone from a smooth near-classical sound to a fearsome sawing sound that she uses perfectly to convey a sense of menace. I don’t think I have ever heard a fiddler who could make such a wide range of sounds on purpose, and use them so well.
The lyrics on Light Fighter are spare, with additional layers of meaning conveyed by the instrumental arrangements and performances. Nine of the songs are by Daniel Fluitt, with two by Amanda Shires and one by Cory Ames. All share this quality of word economy. Thrift Store Cowboys have been together now for some time, and the writers clearly understand the talents of the band they are writing for. I have singled out Amanda Shires’ playing for praise, but all of the musicians do a fine job here. It’s just that the contributions of the others are more subtle. This is a band that understands that each song needs something different to make it work, and there is more than enough talent here to give a wide variety of songs exactly what they each need. The strong emotions here will keep Light Fighter from being an every day listen for me, but they also make me recommend this one highly.
Thrift Store Cowboys : Scary Weeds
Thrift Store Cowboys : You Can‘t See the Light