It goes without saying that the pandemic stopped the world in its tracks, but in 2021, music listeners are starting to see the fruits from the few creators who continued their craft through the darkness. After an impressive 2019 filled with sold-out shows, festival appearances, and career-changing support sets, Colorado’s Tenth Mountain Division was set for a nation-wide tour in support of a new album when everything stopped. Instead of wallowing or waiting, the band zeroed in on their production, creatively connected with their fans through TMDtv, and have now finally released their third full-length studio effort, Butte La Rose.
Sharing a namesake with an unincorporated bayou community in Louisiana where the Atchafalaya River switches course, this album takes a new direction in every track, with all songs flowing to the whirlpool of sounds that define Tenth Mountain Division. Produced by Tim Carbone of Railroad Earth, and engineered by Todd Divel, it’s ten lyrically raw and emotive stories that drive a listener not only to dance, but to think and ache and revel.
Opening the album is “Hot Sweaty South,” a horn-laced party tune that cries out for New Orleans. Keyboardist and writer Campbell Thomas takes a rip-rockin’ lead and sets the tone for a road trip album to blast across America. Their first pivot comes with “Sad Summer,” a beachy, indie track that may be different from what fans know TMD to play, but each strum of the mandolin reminds listeners who they really are. “Highland Morning” is bass player Andrew Cooney’s melodic painting of a timid couple unsure of each other’s feelings, and in a way represents the moments of life that get suspended in time. The album’s only instrumental, perfectly titled “Spring Chicken,” is a hopeful, inspiring, slow build that simply bounces with joy at each change in pace. It’s the perfect jam for cruising through the desert with the window’s down. Showcasing the band’s evolution, it starts bluegrassy, introducing more complex melodies and indie tones, growing into a rock-driven jam with guitarist MJ Ouimette at the helm. The show-stopper of the album, “Get Out of My Head,” is Thomas’ soulful, weighty, self-reflective blues poem. It’s hard not to get swept up in the emotion and mystery of the lyrics and melody, but the real meat of the track comes from drummer Tyler Gwynn, who eloquently and politely leads the vocal and guitar riffs where they need to go. The lyrics feed well into the next track, “Burning Heart,” and seem like something the inspiration for the song may have been experiencing. Mandolinist Winston Heuga wrote this psychedelic “micro-suite” while healing from the death of one of his greatest influences- appropriately, the song has a fire-driven energy and dramatic switches in mood that reflect the magnetism of the late great Jeff Austin, who lost his battle with depression after years of captivating bluegrass fans with his energy.
With “Girl Like You,” Ouimette seals his role as the heart-strung love-song writer of the band. As a founding member, it’s no surprise that this track he penned is the most classic TMD-sounding song but it still introduces a new surf-pop texture that has made a few cameos on this release. Cooney’s “Got Too Excited” is a song that can be felt – hard. It’s a love song gone wrong, and who hasn’t been there? The vibe is high with horns to elevate the ultimately unfortunate truth sung in the song. Solo for the whole track, his voice really shines from the range to the smooth swing to the soul. Cooney takes the lead again in “Drown You with the Bottle,” which signifies the ending of the romances started on Butte La Rose, when “you’re at the bottom every time.” It’s another musical display of the time passing, a road trip of a more meta-physical kind, one that ends at a dark bar with a well-drink and a local band of hard-working musicians. The album comes to end with a very literal song of tragedy, tying together all the themes of adventure, risk, reward, pleasure, loss – “Big Blue Sky” is a lament about what would happen if the road trip went wrong.
Notably missing from the album is the band’s only 2020 release, “9 to 5,” which is a classic TMD composition that may see revitalization in their live shows, but didn’t quite fit the growth that the band experienced with Butte La Rose. Like the small community that inspired its name and the turning river that quietly keeps each track different, this album will become a staple in the evolution of the band.
Learn more about Tenth Mountain Division and check out when they’re coming to your town by following their socials or checking out their website.