Where the Water Tastes Like Wine (Original Game Soundtrack)
Where the Water Tastes Like Wine (Original Game Soundtrack)
|Record Label: Materia Collective|
|Catalog No.: MCOL-0086|
|Release Date: February 28, 2018|
Buy at Bandcamp
For game music fans, quality cowboy music is in no short supply. This past decade alone has given rise to hits of the wild west variety such as Red Dead Redemption, Bastion, and West of Loathing. Even just last month, Ryan Ike – composer of West of Loathing – published his latest shot at the genre: an original soundtrack to the indie western adventure game Where the Water Tastes Like Wine.
This isn’t Ryan’s first time at the rodeo, but where West of Loathing reveled in cartoonish whimsy, Where the Water Tastes Like Wine strives to paint a more authentic picture of the old west. With “over a dozen live performers” – according to the album description on Bandcamp – and numerous American musical genres represented on the album, Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is certainly well-equipped for the challenge. Just how well does this thirty-track homage to a bygone age capture its target aesthetic?
The most important facet of American western music is that this category isn’t itself a genre. Rather, it’s a nod to the wide array of cultures that collided as the United States of America took form, and to the songs and traditions they brought together. No one style comprises the entire 19th century American experience, and no one set of musical traditions defines western music in its entirety. As “a big fan of how people from different backgrounds can come together to form one musical culture,” Ryan Ike understands the importance of representing a breadth of American musical traditions. To that end, he sets out to cover as much territory as possible, leading to some interesting emotional contrast along the way.
For example, in album’s first stop, “Soulsucker Blues,” vocalist Akenya’s wicked crooning fits right in with the grungy steel string acoustic guitar backing her up, and her resonant low notes lend a sense of authenticity to lyrics like, “Now I got a crater in my chest || This hole ain’t gonna heal || And the sting of guitar strings || is ‘bout the only thing I feel.” Just a few tracks down the line, however, “Miles of Smiles” turns the tables with an upbeat jazz tune, complete with ragtime piano and a swinging upright bass. At times the album drives home the iconic image of the lonely cowboy, be it through the reflective fingerpicking odyssey of “Breathe the Black,” the silvery banjo solo “Dust to Dust,” or the combination of banjo, guitar and dry violin in “From This Field I Wish to Rise.” Yet swing jazz pick-me-ups like “Noodle It Out” and “Read ‘Em and Weep” stand by ready to sweep listeners back into a lively positivity.
Ryan’s album runs the gambit of genres associated with the old west, from the Native American-inspired flute and drum musings of “The Road Remembers” to the bluegrass banjo-guitar ballad of “Rail Hoppin’.” What really takes Where the Water Tastes Like Wine to the next level, though, are the genres explored that fall outside of stereotypical old western music tropes. A solo accordion waltz may be the last thing that comes to mind when thinking about the age of western expansion, but “Shining Isles of Ivory” delivers just that. “Rainbow on Wheels” dusts off the album’s overwhelming sense of historical nostalgia for a fun country rock interlude. Not all of these diversions hit the right notes: “This Trench Was Dug For Me” starts off as a respectful funeral march, but when the forlorn brass gives way to toy-like twinkling percussion and piccolo, the mournful effect gets lost. Still, most tracks on the album succeed in feeling not only complete in their realization, but also distinct from any other tracks on the album.
This is in large part due to the many talented musicians Ryan Ike has assembled for the project. Listeners can almost hear the ghost of Johnny Cash in “White Rider” thanks to vocalist Joshua Du Chene’s macho baritone vibrato. That same quality makes Joshua a great match for the bright and wistful vocals of May Claire La Plante in “Heavy Hands.” Stronger still is Akenya’s raspy return in “Tear It Down,” a gospel blues track forged from kicks, claps, and rich organ playing. Akenya’s lilting melodies are heart-wrenching and appropriately powerful for delivering lines like, “We gonna drive the hurt and heartache out || With a wild and righteous sound || And when they try to throw a wall up || We gonna tear it down.”
Nowhere is the collective talent behind Where the Water Tastes Like Wine more apparent, however, than in “Vagrant Song.” At its core, “Vagrant Song” is as bitter a tune about solitude and mortality as they come, proclaiming “Well, I || Got no companion || ‘Cept the wind || And the sea || And when I’m || Cold and empty || They’re the ones || Who’ll bury me.” That core, however, is reimagined in a wide variety of contexts across the album. The song first appears in its “Deep South” form, courtesy of Joshua Du Chene on vocals and guitar. Yet its next form, “Appalachia,” features banjo, bass, drums, fiddle, and a much more upbeat performance from singer Jillian Aversa. “Vagrant Song (Midwest)” introduces an Irish flare in a swung meter, affording Elizabeth Zharoff a more leisurely pace with the lyrics. The “Southwest” iteration sees May Claire La Plante and Jose and Daniel Ruiz translating the tune to Spanish in a flamenco-style reimagining with staccato guitar, trumpets and shakers. Each new take on “Vagrant Song” is a surprise compared the last – for instance, those expecting yet another vocalist to take up the reigns in the final “Northwest” iteration will be treated instead to an instrumental rendition performed by the Videri String Quartet. This eclectic mix of approaches to a single piece of music speaks to the level of variety on offer.
With Where the Water Tastes Like Wine, Ryan Ike makes his most meaningful contribution to American western video game music yet. The field may already be stacked with some fierce competitors, but Where the Water Tastes Like Wine stakes out its own turf thanks to some polished songwriting and a comprehensive overview of musical traditions from the American expansion. Ryan’s latest western soundtrack is a respectful emulation of its inspirations and deserves a listen from anyone who ever fancied themselves a lone ranger at heart.
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Posted on April 9, 2018 by Reilly Farrell. Last modified on April 9, 2018.