As one might expect, 2018's Dean Wareham vs. Cheval Sombre finds the Luna frontman teaming up with fellow New York psych-folkie Cheval Sombre (aka Christopher Porpora) on set of thoughtfully curated covers. Less expected is the album's loose cowboy theme. As evoked by the title, this collection of songs by country luminaries like Townes Van Zandt, Blaze Foley, and Marty Robbins (as well some traditionals, standards, and lesser-known covers), brings to mind a late-'60s spaghetti Western buddy movie with Wareham playing the wandering troubadour and Sombre the cool-eyed poet/gunslinger. However, rather than a dramatic shootout, this showdown plays more like a low-key acid Western, as our dreamy space cowboys seemingly trade songs over a warm campfire under a lysergic desert twilight. Joining them on their relaxed cattle run is producer Jason Quever, who previously helmed Wareham's 2013 Emancipated Hearts EP and Luna's own reunion covers album, 2017's A Sentimental Education. Also on board is Luna bassist Britta Phillips, some members of Papercuts and the War on Drugs, and others. Together, they craft a lush, cavernous sound, draping Wareham and Sombre in ripples of twangy guitar, woody percussion, piano, and, as on Wareham's poignant rendition of the cowboy anthem "My Rifle, My Pony and Me," a woebegone bowed saw. Wareham and Sombre initially met via their mutual association with Spacemen 3's Peter Kember (aka Sonic Boom), who helped produce Sombre's 2009 debut, on which Wareham played guitar. In many ways, they are a well-matched pair -- laconic cowpokes with distant eyes and voices that often tremble like desert brush in the breeze. Vocally, Wareham is the brighter singer, his easy tenor bringing to mind a hippie version of Gene Autry. Conversely, Sombre has a breathy, dark baritone that's a good match for tracks like Townes Van Zandt's "Greensboro Woman," which he performs here with a narcotic intensity. Particularly compelling is the duo's reworking of Blaze Foley's deeply melancholy ballad "If I Could Only Fly," in which Sombre sings against a slowly rising backdrop of bass and synth that's equal parts Velvet Underground and Joy Division. This is a Western album where ghost towns stand silent and the stars shine bright at night, but the heroes don't so much ride off into the sunset as sink into a shimmering haze of a late-afternoon mirage.
AllMusic Review by Matt Collar