Prepare yourself to be mildly impressed with another Soft-Psych masterpiece! Who is October Country? What’s with the name and how can a country be described by a month? Look at that cover. Is it possible to have five stranger looking guys in one photo? Is that a Band-Aid on the girl’s finger? Who’s in charge here? It’s hard to tell with song names like “Little Boy Smiling” and “My Girlfriend is a Witch,” if this album is going to be light and sugary, or heavy and mind blowing. I’m not sure about you, but all these strange things make me like this album even more. I know I’m being slightly/very irreverent here, but I really think there is some exciting worthwhile music on this record. It’s just so easy to joke about Soft Psych that I really can’t help myself.
The first thing that hits you on the opener, “October Country,” is a nervous piano figure. It reminds me of someone tapping their fingers on a table as they wait for bad news. As quickly as the strings come in to play the bass line your attention is diverted by a snare drum hit that sounds like someone dropping a phone book in an empty gymnasium. The sound rises up with a poof like a rock being thrown into a pit of ashes. The vocals are interesting as well. It sounds like boys and girls (teenagers?) singing together in unison. In contrast to the rest of the song, the bridge swings quite a bit. The song is only 2:37 minutes long, so you’re in, out, and ready to listen to the rest of the songs, none of which crack the three minute mark.
“Painted Sky” starts out with some great sounding electric harpsichord and a delightfully low toned female voice. I just love how simple the idea of painting the sky is. It’s just nice in that bright eyed, late 60’s, everything is going to be okay kind of way. In that same vein you also get “Little Boy Smiling” which expresses some complex thoughts about seeing a small boy smiling. At first glance the writer wonders if the boy is happy. In the second verse he wonders if the boy is really covering up some sadness. The subject matter makes me feel like I’m about 15 years old. There is another jumpy, come out of nowhere bridge in this song as well. Hearing so many parts certainly makes me feel like the writer had a surplus of ideas to explore and that usually keeps things exciting for me. The little guitar flourish as the end of the bridge (at about 1:21) makes me smile every time.
“Cowboys and Indians” is sometimes compared to the Beach Boys track “Heroes and Villains,” although it is lyrically far less oblique. It is however one of the few songs mixed in mono, which is a Beach Boys trademark. I think it was a single so that probably explains why. It really is the barn-burner of the album and features a great organ solo.
“I Just Don’t Know” has some of the fastest sung vocal I have ever heard. It’s one of those songs that has not aged so well. I know I wouldn't be able to play it for anyone without feeling a little cheesy. I don’t say that lightly either. I have an extremely high tolerance for Soft-Psych, and even this one makes me blush. There is also a great horn section on this track that is panned hard right in the mix. Can you imagine calling in all those guys to play and record only to mix them all the way to the right? It’s so weird and so cool.
“My Girlfriend is a Witch” is another stand out track. I guess the first thing I would say is that I am glad the writer and his girlfriend haven’t gotten married yet. If you are taking the time to write a song concerning this, then I suggest you cut your losses and move on. Any of your friends will tell you that this is red flag. Do not by any means as this song says, “become a warlock just for spite.” This will not serve you well long term. I would suggest putting a little distance (perhaps a long weekend with the boys) between you and your girlfriend/witch. Then, when you return with a renewed sense of purpose, calmly break off the relationship and move on.
Tones: The bass on “I Wish I was a Fire” is pretty great, especially because it is doubled in several places by a baritone saxophone. There is also an interesting phased effect on “She’s Been Away” that makes the snare drum sounds like it is being blown around by a gust of wind.
Cover Note: I have already poked fun about this cover in the introduction and if you can believe it, I've still got more jokes! Seriously, did bands in the 60’s just sit around in the grass all the time? Also, it’s not fair to make fun of the dated clothes, especially on the dudes, but nice "cinched at the waist" green shirt, guy. I've got a bath robe that ties up the same way and I just love it.
Price paid: I paid about $14.00 for this and I’m not really sure why I paid so much. It was for a brand new reissue that is very nice, but I just can’t remember why I was drawn to this record. It has been well over ten years since I bought this, and if you divide up the $14.00 by the amount of times I’ve listen to the record (and take into consideration how much I’ve enjoyed it) then it has been a good investment.
Bottom Line: I've joked a lot about this album, but only because it is such a soft target. The truth is that this is a wonderful record that I’m very happy to know about. I never hear it talked about when I read about Soft-Psych, and that is unfortunate because it really is a pleasure. If you have exhausted your late 60’s catalogs and want something fresh yet familiar, then October Country is for you.