The debut from Ross Etherton and the Chariots of Judah is worth the long wait

The long-awaited debut album from Ross Etherton and the Chariots of Judah doesn't have time for small talk. "I guess [this music] is a form of expression that's divorced from the little things we do in everyday life to make social relationships run smoother -- like saying 'Hi, how are you doing?' when you go up to a coffee-shop counter instead of walking up and saying 'Tall coffee,'" says Etherton. "There are assholes, and there are people who try to make people's shitty days a little bit better. This [album] doesn't have any of those concerns at all. It exists in its own sort of sphere."

Etherton has had plenty of time to figure out how to communicate with his songs. He and bandmate Jeremy Ziehe were also founding members of psychedelic country-rock band Red Cloud. Between its 2002 formation and 2008 dissolution, the Cloud consistently put on performances so filled with harrowing emotions and catharsis that they could bring you to tears.

Ziehe and Etherton played informally together shortly after the band broke up, and they found that Ziehe's smooth bass lines provided the perfect anchor for Etherton's fiery vocal and guitar performances. "We originally just started playing some songs, and we had no idea we were going to make a record," says Ziehe. "It was just hanging out, drinking beer and eating pizza."

The two talked talented engineer and multi-instrumentalist Trevor Morris into being their drummer, and Ross Etherton and the Chariots of Judah was born. The band has since expanded to a five-piece that includes keyboardist Steven Lawson and guitarist Tom Ventura.

The Chariots' eponymous full-length will be released this weekend during a show at Mutiny Information Cafe, and the years that the band spent working on the album are apparent. Etherton has a skill for taking everyday details and transforming them into timeless stories of Midwestern life; his writing possesses the poignancy of Steinbeck, flavored with a touch of romanticism. Both Etherton and Ziehe are notorious goofballs, but their humor isn't so obvious in the songs, which are direct but still filled with a rare warmth of spirit and nuance of feeling.

"These songs can be done just with [Etherton] on an acoustic guitar," notes Ziehe. "They stand on their own." That doesn't mean they do on Ross Etherton and the Chariots of Judah, though. "We brought in Steve Lawson to play some keys, and he sings like an angel. We brought in Tom Ventura to fill in for Jim Angell, who moved to Seattle," says Ziehe. "Everyone brings something to it."

Etherton's wife, Chastiti, suggested the image for the cover: a framed picture of a horse in Iceland inside another frame, recalling the cover of Led Zeppelin's IV. The result makes the album look like something from another era, and that timelessness is matched by the music within.

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