CHUCK WESTMORELAND- lONG WINTER RODEO
The mind is the greatest escape. Chuck Westmoreland should know. Having already garnered acclaim from Noisey, the AV Club, & more with his eponymous 2016 debut, and having shared stages with the likes of Justin Townes Earle and Whitney Rose, Westmoreland is poised for a breakout with his forthcoming second album Long Winter Rodeo. Proud owner of a Portland, Ore., bar named The Red Fox, which he compares to the creepy watering holes of Twin Peaks, Westmoreland weaves his story songs from years of regulars shuffling through his doors, his characters drawing from a deep, personal well, while also pulling bits and pieces from his relationship with bar patrons with all the understanding of an old friend.
“He knows that there’s nowhere to go when you’re gone / There ain’t no direction,” Westmoreland sings with desolate beauty on Long Winter Rodeo’s title cut. Inspired by the real-life Tygh Ridge Rodeo Grounds (featured prominently in Westmoreland’s “Sharp Rocks” video), the sparse track unveils a simple love story. “A guy falls for this woman,” he says, “but she’s already with somebody else.” In an act of serendipity, the two finally end up together. Ultimately, it’s a hopeful tale, though one laced with an inescapable sadness. The song’s guitars ebb and flow beneath Westmoreland’s vocals, walking the line of solemnity and jubilee. “In the morning, you can see the outline of the rodeo, but it’s shrouded in mist—a lonely, desperate looking thing,” he says, detailing the colossal presence of the song’s Tygh Ridge backdrop. “When you drive by it after you’re done fishing, the fog is all burned off, and it turns into the most beautiful place you’ve ever seen. Every single mountain in Oregon is visible standing there in the arena.”
The same majestic grandeur pulses through much of Westmoreland’s new record. “Long Winter Rodeo” rises as the album’s backbone, and the other narratives are bred and born from an equally raw and moving center. “Mama Be Eternal,” written only hours after his aunt’s funeral, blends tender balladeering with a honky-tonk strut: “Mama, can you carry me?” he pleads, an almost gospel-style choir coming to his aide. And "Prisoners" unpacks the harrowing story of a refugee family fleeing its home, transcending politics with a grizzled meditation on the human experience."
The songwriting on Long Winter Rodeo is the foundation, especially on tracks like the album’s searing bookend “Slaughtered.” “I’m ready to go,” Westmoreland sings, “and I’m ready for salvation.” Armed with only a guitar, his voice cuts to the bone, conjuring a romantic tale inspired by his grandparents, who lived on the Texas-Louisiana state line. It’s a story about a hired hand working the land for an older couple, whose daughter happens to be away at college. He’s 19, young and rugged. Not only does he grow fond of his employers but of the many photos of their daughter along the walls. “It’s in a very genuine way,” Westmoreland clarifies. “He doesn’t meet her for years. Time goes by, and her parents get sick. She finally comes back for her dad’s funeral, and he ends up holding her hand and being with her in her time of mourning.”
When you listen to the songs on Long Winter Rodeo, aside from Westmoreland’s weathered vocals and vivid storytelling, it’s the instruments—in particular, a set of electric guitars Westmoreland crafted himself—that bind everything into a cohesive set. “I made six of those guitars, he says, highlighting his love of woodworking. “It gets pretty addictive.”
Originally hailing from Shreveport, La., Westmoreland came of age in the Bay Area. He picked up the guitar at 13, played in several bands in high school, and by the time he was 17, relocated to southern Oregon, eventually making Portland his home. While there, he issued several lo-fi, four-track-recorded psych-pop solo albums. Before long, he formed indie-rock outfit The Kingdom, who signed to Greg Glover’s Arena Rock label. They scored coverage at Pitchfork and toured with Silversun Pickups, earning a respectable place among contemporaries such as The Thermals and Blitzen Trapper.
Before long, though, the band unraveled, and Westmoreland began focusing on his watering hole, The Red Fox. There was a time he believed he might never make music again. When his wife was diagnosed with cancer, life came into clearer focus. She beat the disease, thankfully, but something had shifted inside Westmoreland. “I was like, ‘Screw it, I’m just going to write a record,’” he says of his first album, 2016’s self-titled debut. “I was just going to record it on a four-track cassette recorder and have it be a homespun sort of thing. But we got carried away, and it ended up getting blown up a bit, which was fun.”
Westmoreland continued his creative streak even before the album’s release. Long Winter Rodeo began taking shape earlier that July during quick songwriting getaways to a duck blind at a local wildlife area. Teaming up with the same slew of friends and players the album came together like clockwork.
Westmoreland’s music is barbed but easy to swallow, like a smooth shot of bourbon. He inhabits these character sketches with a worn, whiskey-soaked wisdom, drawing upon a wealth of misery and pain, love and joy, hope and strength. He’s the everyman, expertly imparting real stories about real people going through real struggles.
Long Winter Rodeo is out June 1 on Black and Gold Records.