The Upshot: Outlaw country with a desert twist, suitable for Sturgill Simpson fans and more.
BY FRED MILLS
From Oracle, Arizona (near Tucson), banjovi—lower case, please—is one Hadji Banjovi, who plays acoustic guitar and banjo, and sings, on this elegant, quintessentially Southwestern opus. Presumably, he also writes the dozen songs here, although the credits indicate the material was written by one Tom Hodgson, so it’s up to you, the listener, to discern the difference between the man and the nom du rawk—if there is any.
Me, I just know this sound when I hear it, having spent a decade in the Lower Sonoran Desert awhile back. I also recognize a slew of Tucson names among the credits, like studio rats Gabriel Sullivan and Jim Blackwood, and pedal steel maestro Neil Harry (all from the extended Giant Sand family). That’s a Tucson TMOQ for sure. And Laredo has a sun-baked immediacy impossible to ignore.
From the lonesome cowboy vibe and guitar-according interplay on the title track and the deep, dusty twang of “Disappearing Ink,” to the windswept, pedal steel-powered country of “Baggage Handler” and the shimmery mandolin lines arcing through “Paradise Just Lost a Fool,” it’s a gorgeous, evocative album. It’s worth additional note that Banjovi has at least one foot in Sturgill Simpson territory—indeed his vocal inflections are similar to Simpson and George Jones—and it’s not a stretch to imagine this record being embraced by the same audience. Check “Oklahoma’s Worry Now,” about a troublesome gal who left and never came back, for a perfect example.
Ultimately, Laredo comes across as the real deal, outlaw country with a desert twist, and well-worth the effort in seeking it out. Look for the record at his Bandcamp page—it’s listed as officially released on April 1, but you can snag the digital version now. There’s also Hodgson’s other project, The Infinite Mercies, whose Texas State Bird was released a little less than a year ago and can also be found at Bandcamp. It’s very similar in tone and texture, if a bit more straight-up country, and features a number of the same musicians. Listened to back-to-back, the two records make a compelling case for yet another unique iteration of the “Tucson sound.”
Incidentally, if you try to search for “banjovi” you’ll come across a slew of bands that employ the monicker; rest assured that this banjovi is not likely to break into a chorus of “Living On a Prayer” anytime soon.
DOWNLOAD: “Oklahoma’s Worry Now,” “Baggage Handler,” “Bluebird Eggs for Breakfast”