This is the part where we all pretend like we’re not all just listening to The Life of Pablo, still. That part when the beat drops on “Father Stretch My Hand Pt. 1!” The Weeknd on “FML!” All of “Fade!” The entire album!
It takes something special to get any of us to stop listening to that thing, I think. Let Numero’s new compilation, Wayfaring Strangers: Cosmic American Music, be the album that lets you transition into a post-Pablo world. Numero’s Wayfaring Strangers series covers folkies and troubadours, but this one—the series’ sixth—covers something slightly different: the kind of country Gram Parsons called “cosmic American music.”
What Parsons meant by that is up for interpretation—like any genre—but he said it should sound like “a Southern soul group playing country and gospel-oriented music with a steel guitar.” Parsons was ahead of his time in that regard—he basically invented alt-country, and created a lane for guys like Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson 45 years ago—and it seemed like he was alone in making music that sounded like his cosmic American music, before it got subverted by bands like the Eagles.
Cosmic American Music posits that Parsons was less alone than imagined; there were a bevy of like-minded weed smokers trying to make blissed-out country too, but they were stuck on labels like Sugarbush and Hobbit, which obviously didn’t have the promotional push to put anyone onto Billboard or onto the cover of the Rolling Stone. Not knowing any of these musicians existed makes Cosmic American Music feel like uncovering 19 individual lost classics. It’s a crate diggers paradise, packaged into one album.
Listening to Cosmic American Music is an experience in having your mind blown open by the missed opportunities for musical stardom here. The dulcet, tender tones of Kathy Heideman’s “Sleep A Million Years” feel like a missing link between the girl groups of the 1960’s and Emmylou Harris. White Cloud’s “All Cried Out” deserves to be held up as a G.O.A.T. sadboy song, and Mistress Mary’s “And I Didn’t Want You,” should have been an anthem alongside “D.I.V.O.R.C.E.”
Cosmic American Music is the best reissue/comp I’ve heard this year. On a week where Kanye will probably tweet something that blankets your Twitter feed in #hottakes, Cosmic American Music feels like even more of a respite; an album by people who made incredible music that never got the attention that it deserved. Gram Parsons named this music, but the artists here perfected it.
Cosmic American Music will be out to retail on March 18, but you can buy it here from Numero already (I got mine in the mail this weekend). There’s a sampler below:
Andrew Winistorfer is Senior Director of Music and Editorial at Vinyl Me, Please, and a writer and editor of their books, 100 Albums You Need in Your Collection and The Best Record Stores in the United States. He’s written Listening Notes for more than 30 VMP releases, co-produced multiple VMP Anthologies, and executive produced the VMP Anthologies The Story of Vanguard, The Story of Willie Nelson, Miles Davis: The Electric Years and The Story of Waylon Jennings. He lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota.