CRAZY MOUNTAIN BILLIES - BADLANDS III 2011 - Extra-Smooth 9000 Records 4**** This is the fourth album of almost cinematic sounds by Andy Bormes alter ego the Crazy Mountain Billies. This disc contains more instrumentals than his previous offerings but if you lose yourself in this music, almost impossible not to, you will find yourself trying to remember what was going on in this particular western film. You may even be trying to visualise what was happening in one of these 'western gothic' movies such as 'No country for old men,' as particular tracks were playing, such is it's grip on the imagination! I'm not too sure how he gets some of the sounds and can't identify some of the instruments but this album is so different to anything else you might hear and consequently is quite addictive. Certainly the dominant instrument is banjo, giving Andy the chance to push his incredibly masterful dexterity to it's limits, but amongst others there is jews harp, acoustic guitar, dobro, national steel bodied resonator, mandolin, fiddle and, I think, synthesizer plus of course his raspy atmospheric vocals, although there are less of those on this album than previous offerings! I've seen his music described as 'an extreme form of bluegrass with elements of old-timey, string band and Appalachian mountain music'! Now you can add 'elements of soundtrack music' and still not really sum up some of the sounds on this series of albums, but don't be worried by the 'series' tag. Each album can stand alone but all are still available so if, like me, you hear one and become addicted you can easily feed that addiction! To get an authentic western feel, Andy told me that he had great fun writing and recording the album in a remote cabin in the Black hills of South Dakota! Apparently there had been some minor sound quality issues during the latter stages of recording, due to his computer playing up and then seizing up completely! Fairly obviously those issues were resolved as the sound quality is now fine! The songs range in length from less than two minutes to eleven and a half minutes which is partly responsible for the scenic/cinematic quality of this album. At times the pace can be quite manic, almost taking your breath away, but stick with it and you will be rewarded! I expect the most radio friendly song will be The hills are black but this reference to those hills is a lot darker (sic) than the Doris Day hit of so many decades ago and despite only clocking in at just over three minutes is epic in texture and tone with it's soaring chorus. The longest song on the album Freight train take me away is extraordinary. It's structure and instruments change regularly almost making it an epic countryfied version of 'Tubular Bells,' but with different instrumentation and added character! It is almost impossible to keep up with everything that's going on and will probably repay many listens! I've lost count of the number of times I've listened to this album, but with every play something different seems to emerge. It's that sort of an album! It takes a lot of time to reveal all of it's nuances, but give it a try, I'm sure you'll be pleased you did! -Mike Morrison American Roots UK.