Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Patrick Stolley
Every once in a while around these Midwestern parts - parts that Omaha's Bear Country calls its own as well - there are sightings of brown bears roaming the fence lines of farmland, trudging over the yellowing, dying autumn weeds and often a light bed of snow flurries. They're typically spotted near the very ends of the year as if they've wandered into even more of a foreign place than they should have wandered into and now they're getting desperate and lean. These poor bears are usually flying solo and are evidently lost beyond their own perception. They make the local news in home video footage or the neighborhood daily, photographed evidence of their paw prints leaving their marks in cattle yards or around the bases of grain silos. It becomes the rage, as if spotting a sasquatch. It is, by no means, anything like a bear country. These are more like bears on an island, moving clumsily through the countryside, so far away from home that it hurts. Though region that the band inhabits is nothing of a haven for gentle Bens and is more of a place for woozy disenchantment for such surly and massive animals, the band called Bear Country seems to be a fitting resident of just as much here as there, maybe a place that these bears are more familiar with - a Montana, somewhere out there amongst the taller trees, impassable boulders and their own version of liberty - where they can scratch their itchy backs against any of those tall trees that they want to. Bear Country move at an amble sometimes and then it allows for the Neko Case-like vocals of Susan Sanchez to be that contact point between the brown hide and the ragged bark of the tree's trunk. It is a satisfaction that is written all over yours, just as it's written all over the face of the now soothed furry beast. Sanchez's vocals in "Coolie Trade" are immaculate and vintage-treated to taste of the warm beer, country and western efforts of three or four decades ago. It's a stunning song that is enriched in multiple ways by everything this group of players brings to the table, marrying a slow burn to lyrics about a false value system (which typically is code for someone being a poor partner or an ass - this time it's the former) and then letting the brew boil over like a slowly melting river of candle wax down the shaft of a hot one. It's got a wooly and cozy sensation to it that makes Sanchez sound as if she needs you - personally and specifically - to reassure her that there's someone better out there or just someone different who might make a difference. Then again, it doesn't necessarily seem the case that anyone was sufficiently wronged in any way, shape or form, but just fooled a bit. They were suckered into believing that someone was - or they were - different than they actually happened to be at their core. She sings, "Nothing can stop a woman's ambition for love" and, earlier in the song, the man's ambition is for gold and both takes on the idea make the object of obsession feel as if it were unforgiveable, reprehensible. It's as if there's not a place where these too ambitions are compatible and will result in two people without nails in their eyes. Men will break their backbones looking for gold, as Sanchez suggests, and this only leads to bad backs, not happiness. The same goes for the backs of women and the love that their axe picks never strike upon. It's just the storied lives of people dealing with emptiness and wandering, out in the middle of bear country, without any bears.
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