Let me say it at the outset, Will Courtney is a major talent. Sure, his new EP At Home with Will Courtney and the Wild Bunch showcases his band’s ability to make other people’s great songs even better. It is a highly listenable treat. But when you get your hands on his back catalogue it’s going to blow your mind. In a good way. Let’s dwell a bit on the new for a moment. The just released EP sees Courtney and company covering everything from new wave to pub rock to urban blues to west coast country rock without missing a beat. Nick Lowe’s “Cracking Up” is not an easy track to cover but Courtney owns it. His remake of Warren Zevon’s “Splendid Isolation” has a lovely sprawling quality, reminding me a bit of Ben Kweller. And the choice of Neil Young’s Byrdsian “Days That Used to Be” was inspired, in perfect synch with this band’s mojo. If you dig these styles you’re going to be very happy with this EP.
But there is lot more to Will Courtney. Going back to his early band Brothers and Sisters you’ve got two albums of solid poprock. The 2006 self-titled debut leans on distinctive organ work and an almost-Apples in Stereo cheery vibe with poppy tracks like “Lost and Found.” Two years later Fortunately broadened the 1960s sound, with a Bryds-like jangle all over “The Air is Getting Thicker” and some Turtles ‘ba ba ba’-ing on “Wash Away.” In 2013 Courtney’s first solo record A Century Behind offered up a stripped-down but sophisticated country-ish feel. “I’d Have to be Crazy” reminds me of Aaron Lee Tasjan for Courtney’s ability to deliver such a tender vocal. 2016’s Planning Escapes mixes things up, combining low key ballads with a few more up-tempo pieces. “The Days When Bands Could Make You Cry” is a timeless piece of poprock, vibing late 1970s new wave or just a host of contemporary releases. You hear “I Got Your Back” and the Tom Petty comparisons start to make sense. The album’s single “The Pain (Song for Dennis Wilson)” brings on a serious Elliot Smith vibe. Brothers and Sisters – Lost and FoundBrothers and Sisters – The Air is Getting Thicker
What was working in Courtney’s previous releases coalesces into a magnum opus with 2018’s Crazy Love. From the opening chords of “Too High Now” there’s a palpable sense that something crazy good is about to happen. The song sounds like an instant classic. “Loaded” keeps the party going, vibing a solid CCR rock and roll boogie. “Crazy” is the obvious hit single, from the seductive opening guitar lines to the more subtle changes and hooks throughout the song. “Look At All The Things” is another classic with shades of late Beatles in the chorus. You can really hear the Tom Petty inspiration on tracks like “Take You Away” and “Finally.” And there’s a few surprises, like the Nick Lowe-meets-Mark Everett (of Eels in his solo ‘E’ guise) feel to “Partner in Time.” Really, you can slip Courtney right into your collection next to the Jayhawks, Tom Petty, Elliott Smith and, as I suggest, Aaron Lee Tasjan. He’ll fit right in.