As if it wasn’t logistically challenging enough coordinating schedules between five artists who live in different regions and juggle myriad musical projects and jobs, Mustangs of the West (mustangsofthewest.com) confronted another obstacle as they began promoting their new album, “Time”: the national shutdown of tours.
Resilience is in this band’s DNA. If it isn’t feasible for everyone to gather in person and co-write songs, pull material from the lead singer’s back catalog. If they can’t all be present in the studio at the same time, overdub. If a tour (including an album release show at the Coffee Gallery Backstage) gets canceled, put the album out anyway; Blue Élan releases “Time” this Friday. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, they’re brainstorming alternative promotional strategies.
Guided in the studio by Bob Dylan/Lucinda Williams producer Mark Howard, much of “Time” sports a ’90s country feel (an impression reinforced by a steel-gilded cover of Tish Hinojosa’s 1992 single “In the Real West”). That’s not surprising considering the original Mustangs played LA-area venues such as the Palomino from the late 1980s into the mid-1990s. The original lineup, called the Mustangs, included electric guitarist Sherry Rayn Barnett, lead vocalist Suzanna Spring and bassist Holly Montgomery; in the new incarnation rounded up by Barnett in 2017, Mustangs of the West, they’re joined by drummer Suzanne Morissette and fiddler Aubrey Richmond.
“Up until the very last minute, we were really pushing to keep this tour together,” Barnett says. “This band really perseveres.”
Richmond, who also plays fiddle for Shooter Jennings, could only be in the studio with the other Mustangs for about half the time due to touring commitments. She cites bittersweet anthem “This is Me Leaving,” an early Mustangs holdover, as an example of how Howard helped re-imagine arrangements while retaining the integrity of songs.
“Mark was all about experimentation — ‘Let’s try this, let’s try that,’” Richmond recalls. “Since I wasn’t on one of the essential instruments, I said, ‘I’ll play whatever you want me to play.’ So he was throwing me on ukulele and B3 and I was finding my way around; it added this cool texture. He kept a lot of that. We were sitting around in a circle playing all these different percussion instruments, and then having it loop and be the bed for that song.”
With a few exceptions, including Randy Sharp’s blues-tinged “I Blame Love,” the songs were primarily written or co-written by Spring; future recordings would presumably feature more collaborations within the band. Per Richmond, they chose songs that reflect “a certain perspective in life and the place where we’re coming from as adult, empowered women.”
Barnett concurs, crediting Howard with giving them “a new sound” and sharpening focus on lyrics. The music “might have a vibe, but not an age.” That belief extends to making “Time” the title track.
“It’s like, ‘Hey, it’s about time.’ This is where we’re at now. We’re a more grownup version of the original band, and have different points of view now. It’s not a message album by any means. … If anything, it’s a story of a band, a story of survival.”