It’s always tough to review work from people you know, people you love. You vacillate between wanting to shower them with compliments from the perspective of what you know of them as good human beings, and what you’ve seen them do in the past, and also wanting to see clearly what’s in front of you; to be fair and balanced, as the saying goes. I always aim to give people their due, sure, but also hold them accountable for their rock n roll sins. Having said that, there is very little to excoriate Cisco Kid for on their EP, Tangled in Sin. The sum of its parts come together beautifully, with an energy that’s simply undeniable. This record is a solid amalgamation of Pittsburgh pros getting it right.
Cisco Kid has been around for a while, putting out laudable psychedelic indie country offerings, but recently, Addi Twig stepped into the lead vocal captain’s chair, in place of Nick Guckert, who moved more definitively toward his other project, The Living Street, and The Cisco Kids have definitely taken a dramatic turn. Addi is well known for her work with fellow locals, The Telephone Line, and regularly lending her stunning lungs to almost every other band in this town. Her ear for vocal arrangements, and her surefire delivery, is unparalleled. So, for this band, this recording, she’s quite the catch.
Sometimes Pittsburgh rock is a little too enamored with the 70s, but then there are times, with a record like this, that the city of bridges, bridges the gap between then and now in such an exceptional way that you kind of gasp, in perhaps the way your parents did when they heard all those big legends for the first time. It’s also easy to pass Twigg off, as that girl with the odd/cool name that, at times, sounds a bit like Janis Joplin that to read about it, you might not think it’s for you. The music does dangerously wrap itself around this concept. At the same time, the musicianship, songwriting, arranging, recording, and mixing on this record are all so deftly handled, that it all solidly holds its own in the here and now. It’s the best of the genre; an authentic telling of Pittsburgh’s Appalachian and southern musical roots. It’s sultry country music, dancey at times, melodic without doubt, and sure to ignite a room when the live scene returns.
The opening track, “The Down Low”, kicks in like the road trip of your dreams and easily sells the whole thing. It pumps, it drives, it has you screaming on a highway with the top down, and you dream of seeing Twigg belt this out on the big stage. It’s got yesteryear’s greats in there: Dolly Parton, Carol King, guitar runs from Crosby Stills and Nash’s Marrakesh Express; references to California living, but it’s also got a bit more of today too, in terms of a more modern, slightly more pushed to the front recording. Some of Pittsburgh’s best musicians: guitarist Brian Swed, guitarist/keyboardist Rich Stanely, bassist Martin Connelly, and Marc Martinka on drums, back Addi on this track, and help her cast out infectious hooks, like old grizzled fishermen. You will sing “Oh Lord, have mercy on me” for days, and then its beautiful, almost Pink Floyd break downs, give you just a little space to breath before trucking on home again. It’s the top drawer hit of the recording. I feel it should have been the single, but it should nonetheless get countless radio spins from here to eternity.
“Devils Den”, even with its wonderful, lightly affected drum intro, doesn’t quite pack as much punch; perhaps as the more traditionally melodic instruments, feel a tad restrained. The guitar in particular, feels just a quarter db too far down in the mix, but everything else on this track keeps this boat afloat. A flawless rhythm section, and again, supremely joinable choruses, all hold it on the tracks. It’s good, it’s real good, but it follows such a big opening track that I may just be having trouble hearing it in its own majesty. I’ll return to it another time.
“Slide Right In”, slowly funks its way into your heart with enigmatic tremolo guitar, a hip-bumping groove, and smooth, smooth chorus. This is the number the band feels is the single from this record. It’s gorgeous, just not a single, but it is a song that is sure to be a live favorite, getting the dance floor and the vocal chords working in harmony. Twigg asks us to lean in a little, to hear her kind of rockier Norah Jones intonations. It’s a sultry performance, and a sultry song. One that should become a solid deep cut in the future.
From there we waltz down into the faux darkness of the proceedings with “The Evil In You and in Me”. It’s a cracker of a song, and if Janis had done it, we’d be used to it blasting through speakers for a generation or so; though in way, it more reminds of Jack White producing Loretta Lynn. It’s indie country; modern country, the way modern country should actually sound. It should be a hit for everyone that touches it. Perhaps these guys can get it there themselves, or at least, have some Nashville suits send it into the stratosphere. It deserves, at the very least, a serious publishing outing.
“Good to Me”, is a very straight ahead folk rock song. It’s kind of the orphan child of the record, but again mostly because it has some really powerful predecessors. The guitar runs remind me a little, of some tracks on Simon & Garfunkle’s, Sound of Silence record (a much more radical record than perhaps one might think, if you’re not familiar). It feels like it didn’t get as much love in mixing and mastering as the opening track, but again, it’s a good song, just not as great as the rest. A lot of bands would be delighted to put out such a song, but at the tail end of what comes before on this record, it’s pretty good but just doesn’t make me love it. Don’t look at that as a stinging criticism. It really is a tribute to everything else on this record.
Overall, our introduction to this new version of Cisco Kid is definitely going to turn heads, gain many ardent fans, and puts us all on notice, that the world’s honky tonks are about to have their walls well and truly pushed.