The Horse Thieves, Spokane quintet led by singers Marshall McLean and Adam Miller, achieved something of a peculiar milestone by releasing their debut record the same day as their follow-up effort. The ‘debut’ LP, Outlaw Ballads, sounds very much like an edgy progressive country effort that Ryan Adams (circa Demolition) would be proud of. The guitars chunk along on top of stomping rhythm parts and the vocals ooze emotion, while their ‘sophomore’ record, Valley of Decisions, has a decidedly different, more sophisticated vibe.
Outlaw Ballads, the “debut” album, was written after the band holed itself up at Miller’s family ranch in Elk, Wash., during “one hard winter” last year. The result is a snapshot of where McLean and Miller — the band’s primary songwriters — were at “mentally and spiritually at the time,” says McLean, who was struggling to get out of a contract for his work as a solo musician.
Across horizonless landscapes of rolling snare drum, plinking guitars and piano, each member singing, the band constructs a sound that is distinctly Northwest: rock music infused with a Western twang and restrained, deliberate folk. These outlaws don’t feel much like bad guys in spurs; they’re nomads, thinkers, worriers, muses — heartbreakers who’ve had they’re hearts broken and are wandering as far as they can from the pain.
The band emerged from the fog and found Valley of Decision, an album no less obsessed with myth and allegory. But this one, written “during one American summer,” as the band explains in the album’s liner notes, explores new ideas. By summer, the band had added Miller’s brother Jordan to the band, along with drummer Tiffany Stephens.