For the longest time I thought Cotton Jones was an ironically named Swedish singer-songwriter who left his post-rock band to cash in on burgeoning bearded folk-pop scene here in the States. I have no idea how I formulated this biography, but I was pretty much convinced. Then someone told me that Cotton Jones (formerly The Cotton Jones Basket Ride) was, in fact, Michael Nau of Page, France’s side-project-turned-main-project. So that’s where that guy went! I was pretty smitten after Page, France’s 2005 Hello, Dear Wind, I probably ended up at more Page, France shows in 2006 then I can remember. Listening to the Rio Ranger EP made me recall all the reasons why I fell in love with Page, France all those years ago.
Cotton Jones is Page, France stripped to the brass tacks. While Page, France could reach dizzying crescendos, Cotton Jones seems content with a determined, slow trundle through of country standards. Michael Nau’s honey-soaked, Townes Van Zandt affable drawl is the most prominent instrument on this collection of 5 songs. Rio Ranger starts off with “Only Minutes Young”, easing into a shuffling waltz-time signature before Nau’s voice croaks in lines about old fashioned being a state of mind instead of an aesthetic choice. Watching the slow progression of Nau from wide-eyed folk-pop wunderkid playing with a religious fervor to a wise, salty troubadour makes this line actually believable. The second track “Nicotine Canaries” features the quasi-processed percussion and underwater synth soundsacpe that recall Animal Collective or Here We Go Magic. A wonderful move on an unexpectedly lovable album.
“Always Feeling Good” is Whitney McGraw doing her best Emmylou Harris impression. Her voice, which has always been a sort of secret weapon, is displayed in full force on this track with minimal backing instrumentation. “Don’t Got a Lot of Time” complimenting vocals recall the sophisticated barroom sing along quality of She & Him, but way better. The final track, “Where you Stop for a Minute” has one of Nau’s irresistible one-liners that turn well-worn clichés in terms of genre and content into borderline Koans. “Home is where you stop for a minute/and clean your teeth”. Print that on a mug or something.
The former heir to Pedro the Lion’s open ended spiritual struggles has just evolved into our generations Glenn Campbell. An existentialist country singer.