Cedar County Cobras
By Peter “Blewzzman” Lauro © December 2023
Something I read on the notes inside the CD jacket told a story that I thought might be inspirational to other artists, therefore, I felt compelled to share it…
“The album “Homesick Blues” has been a long time coming. The Cobras Duo have been together for nine years and have played hundreds of shows from the local Brewery to the festival stage. As a working band, we had not set aside the time or the funds to get into a professional studio to make a recording. Last year Tom (Spielbauer – one half of the duo) won the solo competition 2022 Central Iowa Blues Challenge and went on to Memphis to play at the 2023 International Blues Challenge on Beale Street. It was an awesome experience, and he was awarded a recording session with Jon Locker, the owner of Sonic Factory Studios in Des Moines. This gave us the opportunity (and the kick in the butt) to go ahead and start on the much-anticipated Cedar County Cobras album…”
Good for the Cobras! What I believe will be a successful future for this duo may have all started by participating in a local blues society IBC competition.
The Cedar County Cobras are: songwriter Tom Spielbauer on vocals, guitars, mandolin and drum; and April Dirks on vocals, upright bass, mandolin and tambourine. Homesick Blues contains ten tracks, with six penned by Tom, and it features the most – and some of the best – music I’ve ever heard from an acoustic duo.
The opening original track tells a somewhat humorous tale about the state of “Utah”. It has nothing to do with the state’s history, its astounding beauty, or even its dozens of byways that offer unparalleled vistas. As a matter of fact, the song is actually about avoiding the state altogether. Apparently, getting pulled over in Utah could very well get April arrested. Although she won’t disclose why, it seems she owes them money she never sent in. That actually sits well with Tom because there’s other places he’d rather be. Vocally and instrumentally, Tom and April are a match made in musical heaven.
Who would have thought that the paradox of melancholy lyrics and feel good, foot tappin’ music with a country vibe could work? The Cedar County Cobras, that’s who. Lyrically, it’s a saddening break-up song, but musically – with Tom’s twangy guitar leads, April’s masterful mandolin playin’, along with the excellent rhythm from Tom’s foot drum and April’s upright – the original “Country Records” offers a pleasant lyrical/musical contrast.
Staying in break up mode, another original titled “Long Time Gone” features Tom and April trading barbs in the vein of one of those “I hate you!” “No, I hate you!” type sparring sessions. As Tom adamantly says, “I’m leaving here girl; I’m gonna try to forget your name”; I’ll be a long time gone”. April sassily responds with “Know I won’t follow you to the station; Won’t chase that train you’re on; Not begging you to stay, I’ll just keep traveling on; You’ll be a long time gone”. Other great sparring taking place between them is with Tom fiercely pickin’ the guitar and April fiercely strummin’ the mandolin. Great stuff!
There’s a lot to be said for creativity and interpretation when you’re listening to a cover of a Muddy Waters song and you’re thinking “This is a Muddy Waters song?”. Vocally, musically and production wise, Tom and April totally made “Trouble No More” their own.
On the Cobras cover of Son House’s “Walkin’ Blues”, Tom picks the hell out of a slow, scorching, ninety second slide guitar intro that should be mandatory listening for all “Guitar 101” students; then, he proceeds to vocally belt the hell out of some killer blues that should be mandatory listening for “Vocals 101 – The Blues Session”. One listen to this and you’ll understand exactly how and why he deserved his trip to the IBC.
Not having heard a lot of Jessie Mae Hemphill’s work, the fabulous job the Cobras are doing on her “Shake It Right” will indeed have me checking out her original version. Between Tom’s expertise on several different guitars and April’s proficient handling of the big bass, this one showcases their masterful musician skills.
On the title and closing track – “Homesick Blues” – another of Tom’s fabulous slide guitar intros had me thinking I was listening to the disc’s first instrumental. That all changed when his gritty, gravely vocals started telling a tale of being in a place where he was not wanted. As Tom so poignantly pointed out, while talking of moving along, “I don’t belong here, so I won’t be long”.
Other tracks on Homesick Blues, a release which could very well put Tom and April into another Blues Foundation competition – The Blues Music Awards, include: “Gimmie Lightnin'”; “Poor Boy” (Gus Cannon); and “Voodoo Doll”.
Should like to find out more about the Cedar County Cobras, just go to – www.cedarcountycobras.com. Remember, wherever you go and whomever you speak with, please tell them their friend the Blewzzman sent you.
“The Blues Is My Passion And Therapy”
Peter “Blewzzman” Lauro
Blues Editor @ www.Mary4Music.com
2011 “Keeping The Blues Alive” Award Recipient