Pecos Hank, El Reno Blues

Pecos Hank, <i>El Reno Blues</i>

Ever met someone who was, say, in a relationship with somebody, and you knew immediately that it wasn’t going to work — that something just wasn’t quite right, didn’t quite fit the way it was supposed to? Not that either person was bad, but that they weren’t right for one another? That’s how I feel about Hank Schyma, aka Pecos Hank, tornado-chaser, musician, videographer, and all-round larger-than-life dude.

See, that same feeling can hit you when you see a band play, too, and you get that weird feeling like, “hey, that guy’s really cool, and I do like this band, but this doesn’t feel right, somehow.” The first time I ever saw Schyma’s previous band, the Southern Backtones, I felt that kind of conflict; they were good, and I liked ’em quite a bit, but Hank himself seemed like the odd man out, which is really weird, because he was the frontman, the face of the band. I just couldn’t help but feel like he should be doing something different, musically speaking, even if I couldn’t put my finger on what the hell it might be.

Now, having listened to El Reno Blues, Schyma’s first release as “Pecos Hank” and ostensibly a solo album (although one that’s bolstered by a ton of supremely talented friends), I know exactly what that something different is. With their most recent (final?) album, La Vie En Noir, the Backtones were nearing the territory covered by El Reno Blues, but they weren’t there yet; with this, Schyma absolutely is.

Here he’s left the rock-band world behind, and that’s no bad thing, it turns out, because in its place is a wonderful melding of dusty, back-roads, Western-minus-the-country music (with heavy winks back at Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti Western scores), sultry Latin sounds, old-fashioned boogie, and lights-turned-low, tropics-tinged exotica.

Opener “Drive Under The Moon,” for one, is slinky and moody and alluring, seamlessly grafting sepia-toned Western guitars to a samba-ish rhythm, and the playfully seductive “Help a Good Guy Go Bad” hits a similar note (although from the sound of it, I’m not sure Schyma really needs all that much help learning to play the cad), while “Fallen Angel” aims more for galloping, old-school Bob Wills country.

Title track “El Reno Blues” on the other hand, is a straight-ahead, sharp-edged but sincere country-blues tune, about a man who builds a home for his family and sees it destroyed by the storm; Schyma then changes direction almost immediately for the hip-shaking, Elvis-influenced track “How Did You Get To Be So Mean”, which I swear echoes “Blue Suede Shoes” at a few points. And I can’t forget the country-swing cover of Pulp’s “Common People,” which I’m going to freely admit I like far, far better than the Jarvis Cocker original.

Of course, as I alluded to above, it helps when you’ve got talented friends. Fellow Backtone Todd Sommer provides the drums and percussion, and I love the strings that come courtesy of Two Star Symphony’s Jo Bird and Jerry Ochoa (for most of the album, anyway; James Devall and Nikola Augsberger deserve an awesome helping of credit for the violin on instrumental “Monster Show”). Then there’s a gang of vocalists, including chanteuse Emily Bell and backing singers John Evans, Sara Smith Brennan, and Schyma’s wife, Natchaya Wanissorn, who step in to make the record sound less like a bunch of people in a studio and more like a dimly-lit carnival ride.

Oddly, the whole thing makes me think of the ’70s, specifically film scores from that era. There’s just this vibe to it that brings to mind that era of cinema, especially on the dark, sultry “Sinful Refrain,” which showcases some great, great vocals by the aforementioned Emily Bell and incorporates a cool little trumpets-and-choirs bit near the end, and “Monster Show,” which is one of my favorite tracks on here with its hazy, languid surf-guitar lines.

Oh, and then there’s the second half of final track “March of the Serpents and The Madonna’s Unending Love for a Dying Child,” which sounds like it should be the somber, fragile outro music as the good guy rides away alone and the credits begin to roll. It’s a gorgeous, gorgeous track, even if I can’t really tell if it’s meant to be two separate pieces or one.

Throughout, Schyma’s songcraft is stellar, with songs like “Help a Good Guy Go Bad,” “La Malédiction de la Danse du Poulet” (and yes, you’re reading that title correctly, French speakers), and “El Reno Blues” taking nicely clever turns that never feel contrived. The album makes me think of Leonard Cohen or Jacques Brel at their best, albeit with Schyma’s husky-yet-smooth, Presley-esque baritone.

Unlike La Vie En Noir, where the songs seemed to float in and out, the songs on El Reno Blues demand close listening. The words truly mean something here, and it’s something that’s seriously worth paying attention to. Don’t miss your chance to hear a ridiculously good songwriter finally find the place he was meant to be all along.

[Pecos Hank is playing his album release 8/29/15 at The Continental Club, along with Mikey & the Drags and The Suspects.]

Review by . Review posted Saturday, August 29th, 2015. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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One Response to “Pecos Hank, El Reno Blues

  1. SPACE CITY ROCK » Bowie Elvis Fest: Celebrate The King & The Thin White Duke, Tonight at The Continental & Big Top on January 9th, 2016 at 5:11 pm

    […] version of the American West. If you haven’t yet listened to his debut album from last fall, El Reno Blues, you really, really should, because it’s pretty great, a melding of Ennio Morricone-esque […]

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