First Impressions: Riders of the Canyon – self-titled

A few months back, Catalonian singer-songwriter Joana Serrat released a cool cover of Desert Rose Band’s “I Still Believe in You,” which topped the country charts for a week back in 1989, as an old-fashioned 45 (though it’s also available to stream most everywhere). Her rendition ups the atmospherics, with a wind-strewn soundscape creating the perfect stage for her ethereal vocals, which push inland like the ocean at high tide before retreating back to sea. The flip side features what’s likely a leftover from last year’s Hardcore From the Heart album, the original “Under This Bridge.” It’s a moody affair, like the album, and as mesmerizing as the tracks that made the LP.

Yesterday, Serrat released a five-song EP by her side-project, the band Riders of the Canyon. It includes English singer-songwriter Matthew McDaid and Catalonians Roger Usart and Victor Partido, while the recording itself features a slew of musicians whose names only readers of liner notes will recognize. It’s accented primarily by a straightforward production, with the principals sharing vocals, writing duties and, yes, the spotlight. Serrat’s two turns at stage center, on the title track and “Some Kinda Addiction,” are worth the price of entry alone, but the other songs add to the flavor and fun. 

“Riders of the Canyon,” which Serrat co-wrote with David Gimenez, recounts how a stroll through the wilderness reminded Serrat that we are not the first to tread this Earth—nor the first to suffer heartbreak, heartache and loss. “Sunrising,” cowritten by Partido, picks up the next day, week or month—he’s tired of carrying a weary heart and almost ready to move on. McDaid is out front for “Wild River,” which conjures songs of yore while delving into the pull of addiction—be it to a person or morphine. In some respects, it’s the perfect introduction to “My Strange Addiction,” a tremendous tune about the drug known as love. “Sometimes I can see the future/And there’s a crack in the wall/We’re part of some kinda addiction/Locked up in the chains of love,” Serrat sings, her vocals simultaneously celestial and earthy. There’s some wicked guitar runs embedded into the song, too. 

“Sorrow Song,” another strong McDaid-penned song, lives up to its title, concluding the proceedings on something of a down note. And therein lies my only criticism: At five songs (and 20 minutes), the set is just too short. It would’ve been nice if each of the principals took another step center stage; and, too, for the album to end of a slightly less dour note. That said, brevity and ending be damned, definitely give this one a go—or, better, create a playlist that starts with Serrat’s single and ends with the EP. You’ll be glad you did.

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