[sic] Magazine

The Donkeys – Born With Stripes

Donkeys born with stripes are rare beasts. Sadly these Donkeys, their third long-playing country-rocker to promote, are decidedly less so. Yet, all the same, Born With Stripes is often worth your effort and investment.

In a warm mix of horizontal country and 60s psychedelia, there’s an overall reduction in the band’s previous washboard-and-banjo ethics, though they rarely stray from their spit-and-sawdust upbringing. Pleasant, if not revolutionary – as perhaps can be expected when production comes courtesy of the Pernice BrothersThom Monahan – the album opener “Don’t Know Who We Are” is less a case of collective amnesia or existential musing and more one of summery guitar licks and breathy twangs. Unsurprisingly, it thus recalls the similarly-minded, 2011 set- up of The Cave Singers .

Heralding the onset of psyche, “Bloodhound” bends some strings to warp and haze out the delivery of this otherwise by-numbers, dusty porch-dweller. The dreamy washes and thousand-yard-stare of the understandably psyched (think Spiritualized ) “Kaleidoscope” are more eventful, but are also perhaps overlong or overly uneventful. Better still, “New Blue Stockings” lifts from The Doors , cruising in a classic open-top with blackened sunglasses to help try and mask its rough-edged bass and bloodshot jams.

Equally of interest, the close melodies and laid-back feel of “I Like The Way You Walk” initially seem contrived thanks to all four band members’ insistence that they “Love you with all my heart”. This notion loses its appeal however, as, with repeated exposure, the claim seems pained, unrequited and real. A natural companion to this cut, the 6+ minutes of “Valerie” – far from the jaunt of its Zutons namesake – is a tear-filled lullaby that again hints at Spiritualized, lacking only the necessary star-gazing gravitas to make it confirmed.

For each rare, nothingy moment of padding, such as “Oxblood”, there happily exists a balancing counterpoint. In this instance it could be said to fall to the brief title track, which has a nice barroom bounce to it that brings to mind contemporaries Black Lips and/or The Strange Boys . Also strong, “Ceiling Tan” takes the listen in the direction of Delta Spirit ; its light wood-percussion chirrup and smoky vibe making sure of it.

Proving The Donkeys aren’t one trick ponies (sorry), the instrumental “West Coast Raga” runs with Eastern themes and vintage attention to original recording equipment. Subsequently, it’s a little like those mystical parts of the Kula Shaker canon, if only Crispian Mills had been born 30 years prior. And its near reprise, the equally interlude-like “East Coast Raga” again heads far from the band’s native San Diego for influence in order to close the album comfortably.

Perhaps a little too smooth in its sour mash, Born With Stripes might have cut loose once in a while to stand out from the crowd, but that aside it wears its stripes well.

Advised downloads: “New Blue Stockings” and “I Like The Way You Walk”.

~Born With Stripes is released 25th April 2011 on Dead Oceans .~

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