“Rumors of the Great White Skunk” by The Captain Ledge Band is the group’s sophomore full-length, and a journey from the mountains, through the prairies and back told through the lens of masterfully crafted, and categorically assertive Americana and Country blues.
Album opener “I Wish” introduces itself with all the swagger of a Levi’s clad cow-person stomping his spurred boot on a whiskey-drenched hardwood floor. The opening chugs and pentatonic leads are a terse, but effective greeting that helps to set an atmosphere and a visually tangible ambiance that perseveres through the first act of the album. Cliff Downing delivers the opening lyrics “I wish for world peace/ No more bombs in the Middle East” in a deep, tobacco-tinged drawl that brings to mind a narrator from an old-timey Spaghetti Western. He is joined moments later by his wife and lead-vocalist Jeana Downing who in a rare moment, opts to play backup vocals for the duration of the track. The dichotomy between Cliff’s true grit baritone and Jeana’s southern-accented tenor creates an aggressive, outlaw country vibe that wouldn’t feel out of place resonating from beyond the swinging doors of a dilapidated watering hole in a desert town. Unfortunately, this is the only time on “Rumors…” that Downing adopts this distinct and colorful half-singing, half-talking style, but it makes for an album highlight nonetheless. Despite this minor criticism, however, Jeana spends the rest of the album proving to be a more than capable vocalist, handling vocal duties with emotional poise throughout.
The flow of the album appears to contain two distinct personalities between the heaviness and attitude of the first few tracks, and the prettier, and lighter bluegrass sections on the latter portion of the album. Rather than feeling disjointed, however, the album retains a cohesive quality due in large part to the fantastically live-sounding production, as well as guitarist Lonnie Lay’s distinct play style.
On the first few tracks, the guitar sound is as heavy as can be without the aid of distortion or overdrive. This is due in part to the incredible production, which is rich, and bottom- heavy. You can practically hear the pick hitting the low-end strings of the guitar, and the bass guitar, played by Cliff Downing, has the warm resonance of an upright bass in a big band. On top of the production, credit must be awarded to Lonnie Lay, whose heavy handed, downward-strumming style is almost hard-rock or metal-minded in it’s presentation. The foundations laid down by his chord progressions create a through-line of character throughout the album, and his brief, virtuosic leads scowl, spit, and soar, providing every track on the album a personality beyond the basic bluesy chord progressions.
The two aforementioned personalities on this album are separated around the midway mark by “In the Middle,” which serves as the albums obligatory ballad. Cliff Downing steps out of the background once more here to take on lead vocal duties for the entirety of the track, and once again, Cliff plays his role as lead vocalist convincingly, although this time, he opts for a lighter tenor sound. Cliff delivers his lines with morose and dreamy affectation throughout, which serves the lyrics about longing for love to good effect. Unfortunately, however, while this is an objectively pretty song tonally speaking, the structural integrity is meandering, and the song ends on somewhat of an abrupt note before the instruments can venture anywhere truly impactful. Overall, this track seems to be a forced attempt at a radio-single, but it’s a rather inconsequential misstep on an otherwise consistent album.
The last few tracks on the album after “In the Middle” lean more closely toward bluegrass and Americana, but once again, the fantastic guitar work saves them from veering into generic territory. “I Love You” in particular affords Lonnie Lay the opportunity to lay down some great blues leads. There are pentatonic licks and runs throughout this track with enough well placed sour notes to give these solos a distinctly human feel. In this way, his solos give off an improvisational vibe, while played skillfully enough to never feel sloppy or circuitous.
“Rumors of the Great White Skunk” is a fantastic country album, brimming with multiple personalities that mimic the grit and diversity of the Old-West itself. The fantastic production values and skillful playing meet in a way that gives off the vibe and spontaneity of a live setting where the stage is small, and dimly lit, but the music is loud, and the performances are captivating. With musicians of this caliber, and personalities this big, it would be easy for the members to play tangential songs with Individualistic attitudes, but “The Captain Ledge Band” manages to reign these qualities in for an album that’s fun, and colorful, and most importantly, cohesive. And while the first few tracks on this album do set up expectations for a more aggressive country romp than usual, the latter tracks are equally corporeal in their presentation, and merely showcase a different side to that same spirited country-people. This is a country album that evades tired tropes in favor of introducing you to the working-class steadfastness, and true grit of the American spirit.