On first listen to Ross Cooper’s third full length, I Rode The Wild Horses, you’d be excused for mistaking the subject matter as just another songwriter assuming the role of cowboy. However a little research reveals the Texan native is in fact a cowboy assuming the role of writer. Born and raised into rodeo, Cooper’s professional bronc riding ran parallel with his musical trajectory, right up until a knee injury ended his ‘eight second’ career, validating all the wild west innuendo.
Ross remains independent on I Rode The Wild Horses. A crowdfunded effort boasting a loyal fan following who contributed just over $21,000 to his $20,000 Kickstarter goal. The budget helped him secure producer Eric Masse, who’s credits include Miranda Lambert, Robert Ellis and Australia’s own Henry Wagons and the result was well worth it delivering an overall great-sounding album, treading a median strip somewhere between Nashville’s main street and alt underground.
The title track kicks things off and right away the listener is dropped into the set of a John Wayne western. Jace Everett immediately comes to mind, with it’s sweaty, winding swag and blasts of well placed thick, chewy fuzz that reappear throughout. The feel of ‘Heart Attacks’ lends itself to a reimagined take on The Turtles’ ‘Happy Together’ with a chorus of spectral whistles leading the melody against a tight and steady skiffle-ish hop. There are a few tired lyrics throughout I Rode The Wild Horses, with the references to whiskey and ashes in coffee cups perhaps already used one too many times. As indicated earlier, Ross is a real life wrangler and gives plenty of examples of his obvious songwriting ability and it is perhaps for this reason, that at times we’re left wishing he’d tried just a little harder. However the moments Cooper does reveal a more vulnerable bard really do command attention. He offers lines like ‘Quoting books nobody reads to a man that needs relief,’ in ‘Strangers In A Bar’ to give reassurance of just how talented a writer Ross really is.
Without being familiar with Cooper’s entire catalogue, at times, it nearly sounds like I Rode The Wild Horses could be an attempt to crossover into mainstream Nashville, with two or three of these songs perhaps better served as pitches to folks on the other side of the fence. That said, there is plenty to like about this record and it will definitely do no harm to his cause.