It makes sense, then, that the cover of King Cardinal’s stellar debut album, Great Lakes, depicts a man catapulting himself headlong into the unknown, trading safety and security for adventure and excitement as he leaps over a protective railing. If the record is any indication, Mackey’s own bold leaps have paid off in spades. Pushing raw roots rock into lush, sonically daring territory with hints of cosmic country and delicate folk, Great Lakes showcases the five-piece group’s exceptional musicianship and the powerful emotional depth of the vocal interplay between Mackey and fellow singer Texanna Dennie.
“This was the first opportunity we had to sit with songs as a group before any recording happened,” reflects Mackey, “so everybody in the band was able to imprint their own personality. The song ‘Chicago,’ for instance, got totally reimagined when our drummer, Scout Roush, put a new beat behind it, and ‘Seventeen’ morphed into this grooving, upbeat track when Andrew Porter came up with his bass line. It’s nice to have other people that can guide your songs in directions you’d never imagined.”
When it came time to record Great Lakes, Mackey took yet another leap of faith and sent the band’s music to GRAMMY-winning producer and engineer Ted Young (Israel Nash, Banditos). Young fell for the songs immediately and invited King Cardinal down to Texas to record at the famed Sonic Ranch studio, which has played host to everyone from Conor Oberst and Karen O to the Black Angels and Beach House. Where King Cardinal’s previous, homemade EPs took roughly a year each to track and mix, Great Lakes was recorded in a brisk seven days. Consisting primarily of live performances captured without embellishment or ornamentation, the album is direct, raw, and loose, with a palpable sense of camaraderie and musical kinship.
“There’s something special about having four or five people in a room all totally focused on one single creative goal,” says pedal steel player Ben Waligoske. “Most of my favorite albums were recorded that way, and that’s the way Ted likes to work, too. I think that’s part of what makes the record so exciting.”
The album opens with “Holy,” a gently hypnotic, fingerpicked tune which finds Mackey alternating between his deeply soulful singing voice and a falsetto that calls to mind Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. “What you want / Ain’t really what you need,” he sings at the song’s conclusion, succinctly capturing one of the record’s central themes. On the twangy “Seventeen,” Mackey looks back on the rudderless years between childhood and adulthood with both nostalgia and unease, while “Gasoline” finds him asking “Where you going, Who you gonna be?” over swirling pedal steel, and “Trouble” intentionally courts heartbreak and disaster in a quest for meaning and independence.
As the album progresses, though, Mackey finds that the grass isn’t always greener, that there are limits to the kind of trouble we ought to seek. The narrator of “Better” struggles with his vices, as Mackey sings, “What seems like fun in the daytime / At night it’s just a shame,” while “Boulder" recollects a party that goes downhill fast, and “Standing Down” captures the poignant pain of a breakup.
Hailed by Marquee Magazine for their "excellently crafted Americana" and Westword for their "raw, gut-wrenching emotion," Denver's King Cardinal push raw roots rock into lush, sonically daring territory with hints of cosmic country and delicate folk. Building off the success of two acclaimed EPs as well as dates with Ben Sollee, Sam Outlaw, and Darlingside (in addition to a performance at the iconic Telluride Bluegrass Festival), the band is eager to release their first proper record, Great Lakes.
July 29 - Denver, CO - The Underground Music Showcase
Aug. 12 - Denver, CO - Globe Hall
Aug. 13 - Fort Collins, CO - NewWestFest
Aug. 14 - Omaha, NE - The Down Under Lounge
Aug. 15 - Brookings, SD - The Pheasant
Aug. 17 - Madison, WI - The Frequency
Aug. 18 - Milwaukee, WI - Company Brewing
Aug. 19 - Chicago, IL - Quenchers
Aug 22. Des Moines, IA - Vaudeville Mews
Great Lakes is out everywhere on 9/29