Considering Jeremy Bass’ new LP, The Greatest Fire, boasts contributions from Nick Luca and Jacob Valenzuela, there probably was little doubt this thing would draw comparisons to Calexico. But, while it beats everyone’s favorite southwestern desert folksters in one respect — The Greatest Fire will be released Jan. 19, seven days before Calexico’s highly anticipated The Thread That Keeps Us — it feels like mimicry elsewhere. Bass, it turns out, is actually at his best when he is casting off the chains of the Calexico and Iron & Wine molds, and venturing into more rough-hewn terrain. And, luckily, Fire has plenty of that.
Though the single “Trees for the Forest” calls to mind Calexico’s cover of “All The Pretty Little Horses,” Bass is smart to lend it details that distance the song from homage: country-and-western tinged bass scales, for example, or the occasional burble of an organ. The opener “CA, Plz,” on the contrary, is a straight-up blast of Calexico TexMex, right down to the horns. Elsewhere, he fares better. The bluesy, sometimes-sparse “Like Flowers For A Funeral” calls to mind less Joey Burns than Tim Buckley. “(So Glad) Everyone’s Happy,” with its plucky bass, imagines the affect of a weepy Talking Heads.
And then there’s “1,000 Yrs.” This is the stuff great ballads are made from — emotive vocals, shuffling acoustic guitar, swelling strings, the occasional punctuation of electric guitar and bass. The track, in its finer moments, could even be a contemporary of Cat Stevens. It’s, far and away, the best song on the LP and reason enough to hunt down this thing. Yeah, yeah, he might be playing the James Apollo card and sounding a bit like his influences but when Bass gets cooking, you’ll want to hear it.