Farewell to Nowhere Man and A Whiskey Girl…

(Author’s Note: I first heard of Nowhere Man and A Whiskey Girl through Mike Montoya of Fatigo…he and I had met in September of 2009 and somewhere in the following Spring I ended up interviewing him for a feature in JAVA…this was the first time I had heard of them and his recommendations have always carried a lot of weight with me…I picked up their first two releases and loved them, at some point Montoya had gotten a hold of my address and one day a new CD called Children Of Fortune arrived in my mailbox, it had been  months since I had listened to their albums and I fell in love with their sound all over again…As many or most of you know by now, this past Monday, Amy Ross died in the hospital prior to heart surgery, following in the wake of her death Derrick Ross committed suicide. I had never met a more genuinely lovely couple in my life. I met them at Carly’s Bistro for a show after I had written a review of their album, they had never met me before and Amy somehow instantly knew who I was and gave me a huge hug. I’m glad I got to see them perform so many times, but I wish I had seen them more. They even invited me to come down to visit them in Bisbee and stay with them, to catch a show in their home town and I regret now that I never made the trip…I wasn’t going to write about this initially, the week’s been to painful already, but something happened this afternoon…I was digging through some boxes (I recently moved) and a piece of paper fell out of one and floated like a feather to the ground…I picked it up and started to cry, it read: “Hello Mitchell. Please Listen to this album and write an awesome review if you like it. Love, NM & WG” I have no idea how that note even got in that box. I decided at that moment that in loving tribute to one of the most beautiful couples and musical partnerships I’ve ever known, I would share my review of Children Of Fortune, as it has never appeared before online. This was originally printed in edited form in the October 2010 issue of JAVA Magazine)

Cosmic Quantum Americana:
Nowhere Man And A Whiskey Girl’s Children Of Fortune

Across the long desolate stretches of cactus and sagebrush that extend to the south seemingly forever, in a far off land where two deserts meet and Arizona slowly transforms into Mexico the sound of two lovers making music can be heard for hundreds, if not thousands, of miles.  The music rises out of the depths of Cochise County, home to Benson, Tombstone, Wilcox and Bisbee—home to the old west, home to a land of legends and notably home of the musical married duo known as Nowhere Man And A Whiskey Girl. The couple in question, Derrick and Amy Ross, have released their newest album of way out west innocence and insouciance to the world in a brightly shining eleven song package cleverly called Children Of Fortune.

The sound of Nowhere Man And A Whiskey Girl seems to defy genre. They define themselves as Indie Folk on Facebook and yet that doesn’t do them any justice—indie, certainly, but folk, well folk conjures up images and sounds that I can’t impress upon the music I hear on Children Of Fortune no matter how hard I try. Sure, there is a folk influence, but there is just as much indie pop, rock and country influence here as well. If anything, Americana comes to mind. Somehow they evoke the feeling of the West when it was still wild without ever mentioning it once, the feeling of a distant and dusty mythic America is found in every song.  As crazy as it may sound, the only term I can use to define their music is Non-Local Quantum Americana, a music created in time and space that sounds like a somehow familiar era that never really took place—music that is very presently now, but is somehow connected to everything distant, without yielding to any anachronistic juxtaposition.  It’s a complicated musical magic trick, but it comes out sounding simply beautiful, it is music with which to smile as you watch the dust blow by and the tumbleweeds roll down the dirt road from a wooden porch you don’t even have. It is music in which your mind will take an unexpected vacation and your soul is soon to swoon and follow.

The individual talents within this duo are as difficult to place as their overall sound.  Whether it is the formidable and mutable six string swinging talent of maestro Derrick Ross or the piano playing priestess Amy Ross whose voice evokes a nascent Linda Rondstadt or perhaps the vocal culmination of all the Laurel Canyon women in one body, they will please and tease your ears with the hints of influences they hike well beyond.  What may surprise you more than the inimitable talent found here is that Children Of Fortune was recorded by themselves in their own home studio, then subsequently mixed at Loveland Studios in Tucson with Nathan Sabatino. Desert music by desert dwellers for all the world to wonder at and enjoy.  Children Of Fortune is the bands third album, following their eponymous debut and Just Like The Others, a collection of cover songs, many of which were written by Phoenix musicians including Fatigo, Lonna Kelley, Jimmy Eat World, Robin Vining and World Class Thugs.

The album opens with the lilting, lovely and alluring “All I Know” that speaks of “a girl of constant sorrow with eyes so blue, they’re filled with red balloons.” Immediately you are drawn into the dreamy landscape of Nowhere Man And A Whiskey Girl’s mythic musical universe, where they compare grinding your teeth to eating concrete while you sleep. The poetic imagery alone in the lyricism is striking; add that to the hypnotic musical backdrop and the trance has begun. “Sorry S’nor” is one of the most upbeat jaunty songs possible about the passing of one’s favorite Spanish teacher. While the subject is sad, both the music and lyrics are a celebratory reflection from the eyes of an innocent on an adolescent age gone by. The description of the teacher is so vivid he becomes a beloved character in your mind, before you even realize his death is the subject and you feel the loss almost instantly.

In the sweetest voice possible Amy Ross starts the next song with the line “My daddy was good, but he was a whore loving man,” in which the impact and discord in that line alone is stunning, especially when you consider the song is about Derrick’s dad.  “Down Here” is an instant country classic that invites warm harmonies to join in, akin to that strange California era where rock met country and decided to move in together for a few years in the early 1970s. The emerging favorite on the album for this writer is “For The Birds” a song that captures their quintessence in just over three minutes. The haunting chorus that begins with “Half past five and barely alive…” seems to be something to which nearly everyone can relate, “With hope for better, no end in our sites, this is for the birds not you and I.” The guitar work comes straight from a spaghetti western and Amy’s vocals are tough as nails as she traces the history of Derrick’s mom’s three husbands.

For anyone who has ever felt regret in their life, the impact of “If Only I” will be remarkable as the phrase itself becomes a character in the song and the protagonist decides to stop living in regretting things as a reaction and proactively seeks to avoid the actions to regret in the first place. The end resolve is that a person can change, a love can be saved and the only thing that has to be said goodbye to is the “If Only I’s”. If that’s not brilliant, I’m not sure what is. Slow, beautiful and wistful, the emotion behind it is an achingly wise sentiment. In contrast, the sing song child like number that follows, “Sammy” is the purejoy elasticity of a bemushroomed event in Bisbee and while they aren’t sure if they “ate them whole or maybe we made some sauce…” there is one thing for sure, “only minutes later all that is sane was lost.” It is a celebration of psychedelic innocence and childlike amazement in the moment, playing out like a song a little kid would make up on the playground written in the sky with a giant crayon.

More fanciful childlike wonder dreams follow, this time though the sound is more carnivalesque in calliope time that spins you about like a merry-go-round. “’Caramel Sails the Seven Seas’ is about our old cat Caramel who died at the age of 19,” Derrick Ross said.  “Mike Montoya from Fatigo helped us write it and it’s about Caramel if she was a pirate. Mike plays the bottles on it and this is one of the songs that will be coming out on our upcoming split CD with Fatigo.” “BD” follows which is a slow, lovely number that seems to be a soft and sweet, albeit creepy, meditation on death. It seems when Nowhere Man And A Whiskey Girl aren’t singing about happy strangeness, their next preference may be death or perhaps their own mythical history they continue to create. The phrase “Butterfly Death Highway” is a haunting one, one that, if I’m any example, will appear in your dreams, the song is as persistent as the phrase and proves that even in death there is beauty.

“Nancy Superstar” is a song that Belle & Sebastian would possibly kill for—it plays like an early single of theirs that has never been released. It is a beautiful pop song with some not so hidden wisdom found deep inside: “Nothing is too good to be true, anything you want to be or do.” It is about an eccentric friend of the Ross’ who actually changed her name to Nancy Sue Purst-Arbon.  “She grew up down the street from Disneyland,” Derrick Ross said. “It wasn’t until she moved away that she realized not everyone got a fireworks show in their backyard every night.” The beautifully moving ballad that follows was written by Amy and her sister, everyone that hears “Tumbleweed” seems to love it immediately. It’s a lonesome western ballad about heading to the wilderness up north to spend a year in the Rockies, “Bound to a plan, not to a man, Tumbleweed whistles to the wind, his eyes at night are big and bright, deep in the heart of Tumbleweed.” The amazing art of the lyrics behind Nowhere Man And A Whiskey Girl is that while the words are spare, the images they paint within your mind are keenly vivid.  “Wilderness awaits, its barbwire gates, its rust and metal on the tongue, its beasts to save, its parched lips without the one.” Brilliant.

Children Of Fortune ends with the triumphantly intoxicating “LindyMindy.” The first time you hear the album play all the way through, you are almost certain that “Tumbleweed” will be the finale, but in truth, it could only be surpassed in beauty, depth and dynamic by this last track. A song where Derrick swims through swirling psychedelic guitars and Amy provides the most engaging range of vocals to be found in any other song presented here.  It is the final dreamscape they provide us and it is one of the most powerful in the entire lot, musically and lyrically. An amazing chimerical end to an already hypnagogic  masterpiece. You will find yourself satisfied with a sigh and a smile, staring off into an unknown sky from a porch you don’t have after finishing this one.

While Nowhere Man And Whiskey Girl tend to play most of their dates in desert lands hours from our reach, they will be playing at Carly’s Bistro on October 29th with Fatigo, be sure to check them out and pick up their album while you’re at it. If you can’t make the show you can pick up Children Of Fortune at Stinkweeds or online at www.stinkweeds.com and iTunes. If you have the chance to head to the likes of Wilcox or Bisbee, check out their calendar and find them on their home turf at the Copper Queen or Hot Licks Saloon, check them out in Tucson at Plush and Delectables.  This is what Nowhere Man And A Whiskey Girl do for a living and they are playing live somewhere, nearly all the time.  Their music will take you to a whimsical world that doesn’t exist—an unknown time in an unknown place way out west, they are now here and nowhere at all, in many places all at once and yet, not anywhere at all. Treat your mind and soul to some truly cosmic American music and dig into the mythical, mystical surreality of Nowhere Man And A Whiskey Girl.

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