This record really comes off as an expression of a songwriter basking and stretching in newfound creative freedom. This is not to say that Antietam ever sounded like a constricting cage around singer and guitar player, Tara Key, but rather this album seems to be a close look into Key’s artistry and ideas, which were (to a degree) marginalized due to routine group input on previous Antietam projects. Bourbon County isn’t as much as a solo album as it is an auteur record. Every song appears to be intimate and completely from the depths of Key’s mind and heart.
For the most part, the record sounds like the musicians are all having a relaxed, fun time recording at their own pace with plenty of room for improvisation. Even during some of the album’s darker moments, there seems to be a real vacation-with-friends kind of feel about them. I have always felt that the majority of the release reminds me of days spent hanging out with friends and instruments at a cabin in the woods, having beer for breakfast, swimming in a pond, napping, getting muddy, laying alone when you need a break from the fun, chatting around a campfire, jamming anytime and anywhere etc. So it wasn’t a total surprise to find very similar details in Key’s own description of the recording sessions on Antietam’s website, http://antietamtheband.com/solo.html/
The songs here are outstanding and showcase many of Key’s different styles and interests. An Americana-punk vein can be traced through songs like “Northern Star” “V.O.B.” and “Turbo Dog”. Deep, distortion heavy atmospherics are explored in the driftwood-on-a-rocky-shore like isolation of “Bender” and the rust speckled icy landscape that is “Kali”. Of course some of the best of Key’s work can’t be given a description or a genre title but instead can only be summed up verbally as possessing the power of a good, genuine song, such as “I Found Out”, “Gypsy Village”, and “Long Trail”.
Key’s vocals are consistently strong and pleasing while displaying a wide range. Her guitar playing is the perfect companion to her voice; at some moments it croons and caresses and at others it punctuates and pummels. Key’s friends and accomplices that play on the album are all in top form and display that excited-but-relaxed kind of energy that only comes from having a fun time in the studio. This atmosphere is perfect for some enjoyable jamming, which we listeners get to hear a bit of thanks to Key leaving some on the finished product. Besides the impressive jams and skills of the individual artists, the record gains its strength also from being pretty damned catchy at times, especially during songs like “Seraphim” and “One Spark”.
Bourbon County reveals a true artist at work at her own chosen speed in her own favored environment and with her own crew of colleagues. The album is captivating in its ability to portray its emotions so clearly, even when there are no lyrics to be heard. The range of styles, feelings, tempos and psyches this album possesses is quite vast and always has something different for the listener to enjoy upon each listen. This is definitely a required listen for any fan of Antietam, rock music that disregards borders or any kind of music that’s created by an authentic artist.