Liner Note Authors: Douglas McGowan; Ryan Boyle; Jon Kirby; Blake Rhein; Jodson Picco.
Photographer: Henry Diltz.
Gram Parsons called his blend of country, rock, and soul "Cosmic American Music," a phrase that captured his hippie ethos: it was American music but it was mystic, an unnamable, unmistakable connective vibe that held together these 50 states. Parsons may have stitched cannabis leaves on his Nudie Suit, but his own music rarely drifted into the slipstream. The same can't be said for the 19 hippies, truckers, kickers, and cowboy angels showcased on Numero's 2016 compilation Wayfaring Strangers: Cosmic American Music. Apart from the arguable exception of Arrogance, which was the first band of noted '80s college rock producer Don Dixon, not one of these musicians could possibly be called familiar. Each wandered down their own winding path, recording and pressing their personal visions on the private presses that littered America in the late '60s and '70s. Unlike some of the other entries in Numero's Wayfaring Strangers, the fidelity on Cosmic American Music is better -- not as cheap and grungy -- but that suits the mellow sensibilities of these troubadours. Occasionally, there's a bit of kick to the rhythms -- Kenny Knight's "Baby's Back" grooves along nicely, Allan Wachs conjures a spooky highway anthem, Jeff Cowell's "Not Down This Low" feels sprightly, especially compared to its competition -- but usually these tunes float, feeling as if they were designed to soundtrack a vivid sunset. Such cinematic associations underscores how Cosmic American Music excels on vibe, not necessarily songs. This isn't damning with faint praise: the songs are often nice -- earnest, tuneful and well constructed, respecting the traditions they learned from the Byrds and Dylan -- but this isn't a collection of overlooked compositions, it's a bit of pop archeology, excavating records that feel right. Every one of these 19 cuts certainly does feel right, sounding sun-burned and blissed-out, embodying the hangover of the hippie dream. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine