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Music Review: Bob Bradshaw – ‘Queen of the West’

On his artful new concept album Queen of the West, Bob Bradshaw takes the strong character-driven songwriting of his 2017 American Echoes a step deeper. The songs on the new disc revolve around the title character, a mythical construct who serves as muse, outlaw ideal, and icon of the American West. The Irish-born, Boston-based Bradshaw has thoroughly absorbed the tropes of American roots-rock and applied his own emerald imagination to make them blossom anew.

As the tracks progress, the mystical Queen of the title song morphs into an alienated movie star, a country music singer, and a woman with a sick child pleading with the saints for help (“Role of a Lifetime,” “Ruby Black”). When the saints respond (“1-800-SOSAINT”) it’s with irony rather than mercy, with mournful results (“Child”) that climax in the exquisite, gorgeously arranged “The Wearing of the Black” – which also transports us to Ireland.

bob bradshaw queen of the west

A faintly prog-rock and Bowie-esque vibe overtakes “High Horse,” a sparse poem that builds to an eerie instrumental rave-up. Ruby Black, the singer who performed as the Queen of the West, returns in the third person, and much reduced, in “Story Goes,” a song that reminds me of John Hiatt’s country mode. And in the gentle southwestern honky-tonk of “Albuquerque,” another top track on an album with many highlights, we meet again the man whose life she changed forever. “I know the mystery of that woman / It called to me forever / It calls to me though never / does she need to make a sound.”

There’s no letup as these 13 songs roll by. The fractured sweep of the story reminds me a little of Barry Gifford’s Wild at Heart with its timeless Perdita Durango character. The songwriting has a persistent sting even when the music is in a mellow mode.

The last few songs depict a dissipating relationship (“you’re there but you’re not there”) leading to a hopeful, if low-probability, Narnia-like escape to an East as mythical as the Queen herself. Once there, the narrator – Ruby’s (or the Queen’s) estranged lover – finds war and fleeing refugees. He’s come full circle, sort of, in reflecting the lonely searcher of the opening title track who’ll have “no rest / Until you find the / Queen of the West.”

Queen of the West is a through-conceived album of beautifully composed songs, written by Bradshaw with a few collaborators, richly arranged, played with taste and skill, and unusually deep and memorable. It’s available Sept. 27, 2019. Pre-order now.

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Music, where he covers classical music (old and new) and other genres, and Culture, where he reviews NYC theater. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at http://www.orenhope.com/ you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at http://parkodyssey.blogspot.com/ where he is on a mission to visit every park in New York City. He has also been a part-time working musician, including as lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado.

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