When veteran Cincinnati musician Zach Mechlem launched his latest project, Mack West, a few years ago, he didn’t just form a new band — he created a new genre. Calling the band’s sound “AltWestern” to describe the dusty, often cinematic quality of its modern American Roots music, Mack West released its self-titled debut two years ago to much acclaim and, given the evocative, visceral nature of the songs, attention from the world of music licensing. Tracks from the album were used on various promo spots and TV shows, including History Channel’s American Pickers.
Going into recording the follow-up, Mechlem and original members Will Campbell (bass) and Greg Slone (drums) bolstered their membership, adding guitarist (and album co-producer) Steve Wethington on guitar and violinist Annette Christianson. While the mood and spirit of the debut is still intact on the resulting album, The Goodnight Trail, Mack West’s sophomore effort doesn’t exactly expand on the trademark elements (as one might expect with the physical growth from trio to quintet).
Mechlem has always been one of the city’s more underrated songwriters, and The Goodnight Trail shows him in peak form. Despite the refocus on song structure, the musicians still do a great job of imaginatively painting around Mechlem’s timeless poetics, sturdy melodies and low-register croon (often compared to Johnny Cash as a vocalist, on Trail, Mechlem might remind you more of Matt Berninger of Cincy-born/Brooklyn-based Indie Rock stars The National) with flourish and flair.
The album is often lush (thanks, at least partly, to the magnificent violin parts) but usually low-key, which creates an almost hypnotic vibe. Occasionally, tracks bleed into one another indistinctly, creating some same-sameness that might lead impatient listeners to reach for the fast forward button. But, overall, The Goodnight Trail is a gorgeous slice of sublime Indie Roots Rock that rewards repeated listens.
Mack West celebrates the release of The Goodnight Trail this Friday with a set in front of the collectibles shop Kentucky Pickens at Newport on the Levee. The band performs at 5 p.m. (A version of this review appears in CityBeat's Oct. 26 issue.) Click here to check out some of the new tunes.