Nashville, Tennessee’s Los Colognes will release their second full-length, Dos, on September 4th. The album follows their critically acclaimed 2013 debut, Working Together, and was recorded in the summer of 2014 at Bombshelter Studios in Nashville (Alabama Shakes, Hurray For The Riff Raff, Benjamin Booker). Dos features Billy Bennett (MGMT, The Whigs, Drive-By Truckers) as engineer/mixer, was mastered by John Baldwin, and was self-produced by the band.
About three seconds into opening track “Baby, You Can’t Have Both,” with its playful, dancing piano and guitar lines, Los Colognes announce the intention of Dos. Influences ranging from JJ Cale, the live Dead, and Dire Straits are all worn proudly, with its six members, and particularly the core songwriting duo of drummer Aaron “Mort” Mortenson and guitarist/vocalist Jay Rutherford, making jam music for fans of songwriters, classic rock for a younger generation.
Los Colognes dates back some 15 years, to Chicago, where Mortenson, Rutherford, and bassist Gordon Persha began playing both together (and apart) in a series of “church bands, punk bands, high school bands, and any other kind of band,” learning the language of playing music with other people from a young age. Mortenson and Rutherford eventually departed from Chicago to Nashville, in search of an atmosphere that supported spontaneous music creation, where oppressive weather and overpopulation wouldn’t make it difficult to get musicians in the same room on a regular basis.
“Jay and I decided to make the move to Nashville in 2010 in search of like-minded musicians,” Mortenson says. “The fact that we are big JJ Cale fans played into it. We were intrigued by his history here, and Emmylou Harris’, and John Prine’s. We figured there had to be ghosts still floating around here, their stories, and maybe players from those sessions.”
In Nashville, the rest of the band took shape, with keys player Micah Hulscher recruited in a piano boogie bar and Persha moving down from Chicago to join the group. The band’s history of playing in rotating bands proved useful as a number of Nashville singer-songwriters needed temporary backing bands for local gigs and tours, making Los Colognes “working musicians,” having graced the stage with the likes of Caitlin Rose, Nikki Lane, Kevin Gordon, Johnny Fritz and RayLand Baxter. With Rose, the band spent half of 2014 touring with her as both backing band and support, allowing them to showcase their original material to Rose’s dedicated audience.
2013’s debut LP, Working Together, saw success on a measured scale. “It was all this random shit that just kept happening,” Rutherford jokes. “Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20 tweeted out that "Working Together" was his song of the day, which was hilarious, and six of the songs were featured in nationwide Starbucks shops multiple times a day for a year." The band also played ACL and Hangout Fest, opened for The Head and the Heart in Los Angeles and garnered radio attention from Whisperin' Bob Harris at BBC Radio London and Greg Vandy at KEXP Radio in Seattle.
With Dos, the band doesn’t shift gears away from the Cale and Prine songwriting they have idolized, but, rather, try to refine their skills, develop their sound, and further incorporate influences that include the live incarnation of the Grateful Dead. “We aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel,” Mortenson says, “we are just trying to get really good at our version of it.”
Still, the album does sound refreshing, and part of that is the retro sound and unabashed display of music that scoffs at ideas of trends or hipness. Instead, Los Colognes make music for the barrooms, for dusty music halls, and for the road. It isn’t a coincidence that song titles pull from these concepts, with “Backseat Driver,” “Drive Me Mad,” and “One Direction” reflective of their greater sound.
Rounded out by second keyboardist Chuck Foster, whom the group describes as an encyclopedia of Southern rock, and Wojtek Krupka on guitar, Dos finds Los Colognes coming full-circle, “skirting the line of what a jam band has been and can be.” Whether sentimental on “Hard to Remember” and “One Direction” or mischievous on “Golden Dragon Hut” and “All That You Know,” moods on Dos are not fleeting, and strike universal reference points that satisfy on both casual and close listens.
“So many jam bands I encountered in high school were just stoner rock,” Rutherford says, “but there weren’t any songs there, and the lyrics were garbage. Give me Dylan any day. But now, taking these sort of Cale-like arrangements and opening up the songs live, not playing the same eight songs the same way every night... it is just having fun and not necessarily jamming for the sake of jamming.”
By putting songwriting at the forefront of their band, Los Colognes have put this philosophy into practice on Dos, making their upbeat anthem “Take It” almost self-referential when they sing “it takes a time or two… you better take it, before it takes you.”