It took a week for me to get past the first song on The Best Westerns’ new album, High Country. Every time “Emmylou” ended I immediately began to miss it something fierce—couldn’t let it go long enough to hear any other track. The song spills out with a sweet saunter, punctuated by the weeping crescendo of pedal steel. Frontman Izaak Opatz sings, “Your voice crawled to the top of mine, rode around the room like a dragon. Would ya, could ya be my Emmylou?” By the time I had listened to it 30-plus times I knew every little detail of it: the way it drags and then picks up again, and how Opatz sings “Emmylou” at the end with an extra couple of “ooh oohs.”
As it turns out, all of High Country works as a magnetic elixir. It’s not the kind of country music you do the pretzel to, it’s the kind that gets you in a solitary headspace, drinking a beer at the bar or around a campfire. But, wait! It’s fun, too, with charming evocative lyrics and underlying luau tones. Lines like “my thoughts are as tangled as the sheets in the mornin’ in a cheap motel room,” get past cliché while still evoking the sentiment. “Lubbock for Love” is funny because it’s more of a burn on Lubbock than a song about heartbreak (though it’s that, too). “Can’t Raise the Dead” is blunt and hopeful. There’s a quiet recklessness and thoughtful intelligence to these Missoula musicians that no pop country outfit could ever replicate. The songs are so charming and sincere, so damned spellbinding that when Opatz sings in his rich, deep voice, “You make me want to make/ sweet mistakes,” you’re convinced you do, too.
The Best Westerns plays an album release show at the Top Hat with Jonny Fritz and Chris Sand Wed., July 23, at 10 PM. Free.