Music News

Casey James Prestwood works to keep country classic

In local circles, Casey James Prestwood might be best known for his stint in the punk-inflected rock band Hot Rod Circuit or for his time as a pedal-steel player in Drag the River. But a few years ago, Casey started working on solo material and released his debut album, The Hurtin' Kind, in 2006.

On his own, Prestwood cultivated a country sound that stripped away the cross-genre affectations adopted by many artists who've pushed country music to reach a wider audience. The result was uncluttered, simple songwriting and a refreshing reminder that country music is often best when it isn't trying to be something else at the same time.

For his current lineup, the Burning Angels Band, Prestwood recruited Brent Dreiling and Jeremi Hanson of Band of Annuals fame. The outfit's latest release, Falling Apart at the Seams, produced by Grammy-winning producer John Macy at his Denver studios, is eloquently spare and tuneful. We spoke with lead guitarist Jeff Rady about the band's sound and about his views on not just country music, but notions of what constitutes "alt-country."

Westword: Your music sounds like a polished version of classic country as most people know it. Why that sort of country music instead of another?

Jeff Rady: As far as Casey's influence and vision goes, this is my interpretation of it: I think he feels that country music got tainted in the '80s and turned into something unrecognizable in the '90s and the present. There were a few artists like Dwight Yoakam and other traditionalists who brought it back. He feels that's the most authentic era of the music. If you look back at that era, there are a lot of rock-and-roll influences as well.

It's kind of hard to tell sometimes between some Elvis and some Johnny Paycheck, as far as the more intricate things happening in the progressions. Even with Waylon Jennings, it's hard to tell why he's country. That era for all of us is the only one that we have any interest in listening to and playing. Part of it, too, is that so many bands are so focused on hybridizing the music. It's "country rock," "alt-country," "dance rock." We want to keep it to that older-era sound.

You mention "alt-country," and I read in your bio a reference to "alt-country." Is that a designation you feel applies to your music?

I think that nowadays it does — in an ironic way. I just think that because most country that mainstream audiences, or perhaps readers of Westword, are looking at, like Ryan Adams, Lucero, Justin Townes Earle and Steve Earle, aren't really pure country. So I think people are used to that alt-country, and now we're the alternative because we're doing it the original way, which isn't really seen with people in our age group.

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.