Cosmic Rough Riders


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AllMusic Review by Stanton Swihart

Deliverance was content to find a groove and ride it for all it was worth, but Daniel Wylie and Stephen Fleming just happened to find a fabulous groove, steeped in the laid-back ease of '70s California folk and country-rock. Panorama, however, shows considerably more variation -- both in influences and in sound -- and the result is an impossibly dynamic masterpiece, irresistible and breathtaking in its accomplishment. As striking as the debut was, Panorama is a far more stunning achievement. Some of the same sonic touches remain. Light-as-air vintage Byrds harmonies bloom throughout, particularly on songs such as "Have You Heard the News Today?" and "The Pain Inside," as do chiming guitars straight out of Mr. Tambourine Man, while Jayhawks harmonies buoy the wonderful country ballad "Afterglow." But gone for the most part are the overt country-rock inflections and in their place are even more resonant touches of rural psychedelia and a sound dense with strummed acoustic guitars and tangibly cosmic undertones. California is still an unseen Mecca for the duo, but even when they do reference familiar elements from its rock and pop past -- the surf-insistent Beach Boys harmonizing that opens "Value of Life," for instance, or the expansive hung-over quality of the opening "Revolution (In the Summertime)" -- they place them in contexts so far removed from the original intent that it creates an entirely new dynamic. "You Got Me" begins to explain the progression in musical terms. The song has the same country-folk lilt that many of the songs on the debut had, but there is something deeper in the mood it creates, a trippy quality that colors the song more otherworldly, and more emotionally stirring in the process. Some of the touchstones hit closer to home this time around, including Beatles and Rolling Stones touches and an Eastern ambience. The brief mystical blast of "Brothers Gather 'Round" wrenches Brian Jones' sitar-like tones out of an acoustic guitar, while the guitars on "Can't Get Any Closer" could have walked out of Aftermath. But "The Gun Isn't Loaded" is the most convincing exposition of the band's huge growth between albums. The melody is a grafting of Middle Eastern modality and the echoes of traditional Celtic folk (while managing to also sound like XTC), and the mood falls somewhere between "Norwegian Wood" and "Tomorrow Never Knows," Indian music and psychedelic folk-rock. As on their previous album, though, it is too easy to simply use allusions to get at the essence of what makes Cosmic Rough Riders such a phenomenal band. Panorama on its own terms is an album of sweeping scope and poignancy, mindful of the heritage that it continues, but so brilliantly executed that it feels like a quantum leap into uncharted waters, full of genuinely glorious moments of epiphany.

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