Discount Cowboy is a terrific album. The songs are contemplative and engaging, and the songwriting and story-telling are top notch. The lyrics are vivid and often deal with serious topics, like life and living, heartbreak, loneliness, and things not quite going your way, “Well I’ve been shell-shocked, Ram Rocked / Broke apart / … / But I know something most of all / I may look big but I feel so small” Spank Williams sings on album opener “I’m not handsome, I’m hammered.”
Spank Williams does a good job talking about these topics, and brings in a rich perspective with some self-deprecating humour (the album title, for example); words of wisdom — “I feel bad but hey I felt worse / having emotions is a blessing and curse” support — “just call me whenever if you need a friend / I know you’re praying loneliness will end;” and honesty — “say you love me yes you do and / I’ll shed a tear saying I love you and / I’m not creator of gold glass towers no / I’m not a cowboy I’m a coward”. At the same time, the skits and samples that are interspersed in the album provide well-timed comic relief.
The music is beautiful throughout the entire album. The instruments rowdily come together on “She Drank Gooseberry Wine” and support Spank Williams’ musings. A jazzy interlude also appropriately adds to the chaos. Their comfort with a wide diversity of moods is clear as well. A lot of tension in “I’m Not Handsome I’m Hammered” gives way to the mellow “Poor Young Merrit Man Pt 2.,” while the rhythm really drives the story-telling forward on “I’m Not a Cowboy I’m a Coward.” “The stars bounce off the snow in Goldbrige B.C” is a well-placed breather, and is two minutes and thirty seconds of some delightful music. Despite this diversity in moods, the album is still very cohesive and a joy to listen to.
Spank Williams mentions that John Prine and Tom Waits are the album’s biggest musical influences. You can hear those influences — along with a bit of Hank Williams — but Discount Cowboy and Spank Williams still have a distinct sound, and I’m looking forward to hearing more.