Blue Rider is a road album. One of those collections of songs that stretches out in an infinite expanse as it plays, uniquely singular sounding, but often blending into one indistinguishable stream of sound. Zachary Cale’s Louisianan roots are obvious here—his voice is one of those slow drawls that drapes itself like taffy over everything around it. And what’s around it is this: guitars with emphasized twangs embossed with a distant, jazzy sound. Cale has called Blue Rider his “blues record,” and it uses the same tuning Skip James used. The album’s bluesy backbone is inarguable, but what Blue Rider really is is a record that expands slowly as it progresses forward, leaving the listener with the feeling that, once it’s over, he’s going to need directions to get back.
Album opener, Unfeeling, is reminiscent of a ‘60s lullaby. Its smooth guitar is softened even more by a distant, bleached reverb. Hold Fast relies on a slightly melancholy atmosphere created by the sedately plucked guitar and Cale’s tethered croon. If 2011′s Noise Of Welcome was an exercise in gracefully overstuffed compositions, Blue Rider is an exercise in unpacking those compositions. It’s Cale’s attempt to make what is usually just the legs of a song the entire body.
What’s impressive about Blue Rider is Cale’s ability to craft a specific sound so that you’re pretty sure you know what’s coming next, and then eclipse your expectations without warning. Midway through the album, Blood Rushes On, a moonlit serenade à la Ron Sexsmith, fades into Hangman Letters, an optimistic, scale-climbing gem that could double as a morning ritual sunrise salute. It’s as if within the course of two songs and eight minutes, Cale has documented an entire rotation of the Earth.
Blue Rider closes with Noise Of Welcome, which opens with Cale plucking his six-string with the fluidity of a piano trill. His voice, as it rises in hurried longing, fades into a nothing more than a soft exhale. This is the horizon of the album. It seems only a step away, but even as you move closer to it, it pulls back. This is why Blue Rider is so enjoyable: even while it pulls you in, you’ll still feel like you’re listening to it alone. That might sound like an aloof move by Cale, but it’s really just an expression of that feeling that comes with being en route.