When I heard The Decemberists were making a country album I cringed a little bit. And then I recalled that I actually don’t mind country music when it’s coming out of the West Coast (i.e.: CA, WA, OR, etc) and not somewhere in the Midwest or South. I guess it’s what those folks out there call alt. country, though this doesn’t really fit that genre. Yes, there are slide guitars and fiddles and some banjos and harmonica, but this is a band that regularly uses multi-instrumentation in their songs anyway. And what, ultimately, is the difference between using a hurdy gurdy and a violin? All they basically do here is take an album full of what are essentially typical Decemberists songs and add different, more country-ish and Americana-ish instruments to the mix, tone down the shite about seafaring and foreign lands (while amping up local, home flavor) and add some nice harmonies reminiscent of what people assume comes with country music. My favorite song I can’t seem to stop listening to is “Rise to Me,” which is certainly in that slide guitar and harmonica wheelhouse and is a lovely song. Lovely, I said. There is just a wonderful nostalgic and warm feel to the album that is not normally their thing. No songs about legionnaires or Chinese trapeze artists, but things much closer to home and heartfelt lyrics and truly American roots sounding instrumentation. There’s nothing quite like a pleasant surprise.