Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
The basket ride was chopped from this Maryland band's name shortly following its appearance, probably executed mostly for brevity purposes. The whole mouthful always gets to be tricky when it comes to a name, something that one's supposed to call something else, a referential cursor. Short and sweet tends to be the way to go, but even with the amputation of consonants and vowels, there's no avoiding the ghost of the name, the permanent essence of launching off in a balloon's underbelly carriage and setting out for an around the world trip on par with that of the story that Jules Verne told using steamers and railcars. It's as if the tether that holds the vessel and the people in it is just willfully let go of and the whole shooting match is left to soar undisturbed, summoning the jealousies of all winged creatures and those from below, beholden to so much weighty gravity that they're always to feel it in their arches and their flattened heels. Cotton Jones, the newest project from Page France creators Michael Nau and Whitney McGraw, is a capital outfit that marks itself with composure, stillness, tenderness and more exceptional poetry from a man who obviously takes his time with a pen very seriously by finding the maximum potency in every word that he chooses to dance with. Nau is a master when it comes to utilizing the natural properties of words, letting them stir memories, imaginations, all of the olfactory senses and then feeling them deliver something new and exquisite. His words and the confident, yet lulling way that he presents them in his band's ever-pleasant country folk sound, open up the eyes, signal the ears to pay closer attention to the freckles and beauty marks of the tones, makes the nose and the mouth begin to do their things and they make the skin ripple with cool collection. They are beady, these words, and they have a rapier's precision, giving the attention and the sharpness to Nau's dreamlike world of acres and acres of bushy cattails, wild flowers, native grasses, graveyards, musky porches and basements and men and women (sometimes lovers and sometimes others/leavers) exchanging their very best statements and question marks. It's his flirtation with these graphic notions of the littlest details, the descriptive words that make Nau's songwriting so different and so full of the kind of life that isn't easily duplicated for it takes too much care and such a deft responsibility to earnestness that it's often too much for most writers to undertake - for they aren't good enough or they can't be bothered with the effort. He talks about the milky flowers and the velvets that he encounters, or that he feels in his head and we're whisked away into a garden packed with the kinds of lovely people who would walk around wearing wooden panels for eyelids and who could find energy in melancholy. McGraw sings an angelic line about the early morning hours, when the light is precious and there's something in the air, giving us, "Where living is easy/Where living is easy," and the seeming truth to that is also interspersed with all the signs in the beleaguered manner that the body of the song is given, pointing to its thorniness as well, as if there isn't anything so simple about anything. Nau's words are striking in their themes of loneliness and the very disturbing, but palatable madness that can set in. It's a madness that doesn't turn one mad at all, but just heightens one's senses to all of the goodness or beauty going around, with little of it feeling at all personal or social. It's all outside or from afar and they're simply moving through, passing by.