Nocona is a band that is comfortable inhabiting the nebulous space you find between psychedelic rock and classic country music. “We don’t neatly fit into any pop, country or ‘alt’ country category,” explains Chris Isom. “We tip our hats to a lot of traditional music and have a tremendous amount of respect for the varied and storied forms of Americana music, but we also do a lot of weird far out stuff. We take a lot of chances musically and we like it that way.”
Fronted by the husband and wife team of Chris and Adrienne Isom playing lead guitar and bass respectively, Nocona takes full band form with Justin Smith on drums, Elan Glasser on harmonica, Dan Wistrom on steel guitar, and Xander Hitzig on fiddle. They also recruited notable Los Angeles keyboardist, Carl Byron to play on Los Dos. All songs were written by Chris Isom with the exception of “Post Apocalyptic Blues” which was co-written with Jay Braun. Isom sings all leads with vocal backing by Adrienne Isom and Justin Smith.
Los Dos was co-produced and mastered by Adrienne Isom and New York friend and recording engineer Jay Braun and mixed by Kevin Jarvis at his Sonic Boom Studios. Recorded live in the Isom’s garage with no click tracks, the record captures the feel of people playing in a room together live.
“We took more chances on this record,” said Isom. “Adrienne and Jay had a lot of input in terms of dynamics, tempo and vibe. Because we recorded in our garage, we weren’t on the clock as we were with our other records during the recording process, and we could record more takes and choose from the ones we liked or retake after listening more. I think that provides a powerful dimension to the overall vibe of the record which diverges from some of our other recordings.”
Los Dos begins with the track “Stabby Mike” a surreal ode to a fictional character who may or may not resemble figures in real life. “I got this character in my head of someone who just walks around with a switchblade in his back pocket and stabs people for fun…ya know? Stabby Mike…kind of like a “Gangs of New York” type character.” Chris says. “There are a few people who don’t seem to be so far off from this kind of caricature to me these days, unfortunately.” Sonically, the song explores some tried and true rock n’ roll psychedelic Americana punk territory, but has a soaring unexpected chorus and interesting instrumentation featuring Wistrom’s masterful pedal steel and Glasser’s harmonica work.
“Chasing Your Shadow” is a more upbeat track with a bluegrass or country feel, while “Free Throw” evokes a more laid-back 70’s sun-soaked rock n’ roll vibe.
“Unseen Hand” is perhaps one of the record’s most ambitious songs instrumentally, incorporating aspects of heavy blues verging on psychedelia. The long instrumental middle of the song has a series of very unexpected twists and turns. “Never Come Back” features some of the most incredible fiddle work from Hitzig. “It’s just a real straight forward song with a lot of bluegrass roots, but some dark undercurrents. It was pretty much made for the fiddle and Xander has one of my favorite solos of the whole record on it.”
“Ace In The Hole” is a lush closing ballad with soaring symphonic choruses and beautiful pedal steel, dealing with the issues of existential ennui. “It’s about learning to live in the moment and appreciate the now, but knowing our inner demons are always lurking. I wanted to write something that would make someone who might be really depressed see the beauty in life and not dwell on their demons,” explains Isom.
Los Dos is being released on Mule Kick Records, which is a small label created by Adrienne Isom and her partner at Mule Kick Productions, KP Hawthorn. Adrienne is a filmmaker and is currently working on a documentary on the legendary LA nightclub, The Palomino (She also directs and edits many of the band’s videos). “This is the production company we created to support our documentary,” she describes. “I hadn’t planned making Nocona’s record our first release, but with the changed world, it was the thing to do. I was in production with the documentary and I couldn’t release the album and make the documentary at the same time…then we all went into quarantine so the documentary is what ended up being temporarily paused. The record was done and I realized I wouldn’t be traveling and interviewing people for awhile, so it seemed obvious that now was the right time to release the record.”
All in all, Los Dos catalogs a rich musical journey for Nocona and an interesting departure from some of their previous work. While many aspects of the record are more raw and gritty than previous releases, much of the songwriting is more mature and fully realized. If you were a fan of their previous work, you will definitely enjoy this record, however, you may find yourself pleasantly surprised by some of the unique twists and turns it takes which really push the bounds of the genre.