Cumberland, Maryland-based Cotton Jones (formerly The Cotton Jones Basket Ride) is the current passion in Michael Nau's life. Formerly a side project, Nau left his band Page France to pursue the two-piece ensemble Cotton Jones full-time.
"This feels like a new leaf for me. I've learned to let the music happen, rather than trying to invent something," Nau explains. "I'm still sifting through some imaginary thesis, but it makes more sense now" (press release).
Partnered with Page France band mate Whitney McGraw, Nau creates a mellow psychedelic folk-pop that's almost indistinguishable from the more melodic indie pop of his PF days. A cross between Mazzy Starr and the collaborations of Mark Lanegan and Isobel Campbell, Cotton Jones' Paranoid Cocoon is the follow-up to the duo's 2008 full-length debut The River Strumming.
With Cotton Jones, Nau eschews pomp and circumstance for seemingly one acoustic guitar, but the sounds appear fuller as his and McGraw's vocals soar. McGraw's twangy voice is commanding yet sympathetic, and fully complements Nau's low-key gruff, as in the rustic anthem "Up A Tree (Went This Heart I Have)" and the Andy Griffith Show-esque "By Morning Light."
The duo is unafraid to let the music simply exist, never pushing it and almost always acting as merely part of it. Much of "Some Strange Rain" is instrumental, and only when the song matures do Nau and McGraw join in like two whispering winds caught near the day's end. The vocal-less "Photo Summerlude" is no different, placed as an appropriate midpoint to the start of another day.
The beauty of Paranoid Cocoon is that it captures the laid-back nature of country/outdoor living. While country folk might be too rich for some, CJ puts it down several notches to solely focus on the sedate ambiance, which is best laid bare in "Cotton & Velvet."
If the music feels like a shared experience, it's by unintentional design as Nau clarifies, "I believe there's a familiar mood from start to finish… the lyrics work like visuals of such moods." Whether it's a forceful artificial push in "Gotta Cheer Up" or a continual reminder that you're ordinary in "I Am The Changer," sometimes there's solace in commonality.