There's a lot going on underneath the cowboy hats of eclectic local singer-songwriter Joseph Martens and his Hindu Cowboys. Martens' hat, in particular, seems to fit just right, now that he's traveled down the road from his solo work, and somehow closer to his Nashville roots. The Cowboys' music brings to mind dust-bowl abandonment and cowpoke serenades of the deepest strains. If the pedal-steel-guitar swoon of elder hand Paul Crawford doesn't get you, then the Sunday-best grooming of the rest of the band -- from boot heel to hat brim -- should.
Their music, although nostalgic on the surface, strikes a revolutionary tone with an odd context of traditional twang and modern songcraft. But to hear their timeless odes to love and sudden loss as mere novelty, or even tribute, is to miss the band's honesty altogether. The Cowboys are not posturing as a Western house band -- they're as real as it gets.
"I really believe in what we're doing," says Martens. "At the same time, I keep running into obstacles that are rather silly -- like because of the fact that we're primarily an original band, we try to get the gigs in venues that are actually country. But when you mention the word 'originals,' they look at you like they've never even heard the word."
Martens moved here from Nashville in 1993. In country music's jewelled mecca, he grew up during the big shift from rural blues to commercial jingles. He was ultimately able to formulate his own recipe: a rich blend of country's past and present.
"I don't feel like I gave up on Nashville," Martens clarifies. "There's a real stigma with even mentioning that you come from Nashville. I just wasn't in sync with what was going on there."
Saddled up with Martens (acoustic guitar, vocals) and Crawford (pedal steel) are guitarist George "The Bulgarian Wonder" Dimitrov, drummer Giti Skay and upright bassist Craig Roy. Last weekend, the Hindu sound is being validated as they progress in a battle of the bands at Disney's Wildhorse Saloon (next round: 9:30 p.m. Sunday, July 25). And although the band has yet to release a proper album, demos have been winning praise from all sides.
"What I'm trying to do is come in with the passion of having been inspired by old-time country and simply write in that vein and not be limited to any preconceived notion," explains Martens. "Ultimately, what I'd like to do is do for country what the Beatles did for rock & roll."