Before saddling up with Crazy Horse, as a teenager, bassist Billy Talbot could be seen hanging around New York City street corners with his first vocal group, the Cavaliers. In 1962, he began singing doo-wop as a member of Danny and the Memories. They sang strong harmonies, got turned onto instruments after a Byrds concert and eventually joined Neil Young. Though he would ride with Crazy Horse for the next four decades, Talbot never lost touch with his formative years. He said, “Singing harmony is where I come from.” On his second album, On the Road to Spearfish, he takes the road less traveled and discovers fundamental truths. “I hope it translates,” Talbot said.
Reflective of the American conquest of the West, On the Road to Spearfish provides solace to its listeners while keeping an optimistic eye turned toward the horizon.
Talbot narrates a thematically compelling record with themes of growing up (“Runnin’ Around), autonomy (“The Herd”) and prudence (“Ring the Bell”). The title track presents a story similar to the one in the HBO series Deadwood. In the first episode, a family of Swedish immigrants is massacred on the road to Spearfish, South Dakota. As a resident of South Dakota who’s married to a Swede, Talbot couldn’t help but empathize, and that kind of compassion gives the album its universality. “Honest people … will understand,” he said.
Completely improvisational, “Miller Drive” is that rare nugget that musicians desire most. “They search for a groove, this improvisation that they know exists,” Talbot explained. But when do you catch it? “It never gets recorded, or you try to record it, but then you’re not improvising anymore.” Luckily, tapes were rolling when a burst of innovation came over Talbot. The band sinks into a groove, and for nine minutes, they soar.
On the Road to Spearfish proves that Jack Kerouac isn’t the only one unafraid to explore the road that lies ahead.
– Melissa Caruso