By Nathan Hoffman
As if founding an independent record label wasn’t a daunting enough task! Sparta frontman Jim Ward managed to top it with the release of the debut album from side project Sleepercar. Released on the newly launched label, Civil Defense League Records, West Texas is a collection of alt-country and Americana songs. The disc may be a shock to some fans who expect another Sparta record. But that isn’t a bad thing, as the songs hold their own by giving listeners a new perspective on Ward’s delicious musical taste. The crunchy distortion, delay-infused guitars, and growling yells of Sparta have been traded in for acoustic and pedal steel guitars, pianos, electric organs, and soothing, low-key harmonies.
Sleepercar has been a seven-year-long venture for Ward, which began during a sound check in Japan while playing at At The Drive-In. While messing around on his guitar, he wrote the opening notes to what would become the song “Fences Down,” which features slide guitar and Americana piano that makes you want to pull out your cowboy hat, hop on your steed, and head south. During brief moments of solitude while touring with Sparta, and down time at his home in Texas, Ward continued writing songs and eventually had enough material to cut a record with a few pals: West Texas features guitar and farfisa played by Ross Godfrey from Morcheeba and vocals by Maura Davis from Denali.
The opening track, “A Broken Promise,” is a musically upbeat song with just the right amount of cynicism. What sounds like an effects-laden triangle at the beginning is quickly replaced by the sort of guitar lick that’s usually found in your typical ska song, but it actually fits in nicely. With quiet vocals and single notes picked on an acoustic guitar, “Wednesday Night” is a gorgeous, well-crafted song that could put newborns to sleep at night.
A couple songs are more forgettable than others: “Wasting My Time” is just that and is my least favourite song on the disc. The fuzzy effects on the guitars just don’t seem to fit the laid-back country feeling of the rest. But West Texas is generally an impressive debut that’s perfect for people who enjoy the calm just as much as the storm.