Vibrant New Country Rock with Deep Genre Roots
On debut album Brand New Distance, Cimarron 615 announce themselves as a vibrant new voice with rich Nashville roots. The 10-song record channels a collective heritage that includes Poco, the Flying Burrito Brothers, and Loretta Lynn into a refreshingly contemporary take on harmony-laden, narrative country rock.
Brand New Distance oozes world-class songcraft and innate musicality enhanced with achingly nuanced vocal harmonies, poignant lyrics, and sinewy solos. Marrying bluegrass instrumentation (banjo, mandolin, Dobro) to breezy California country rock, gritty blues, and pop sensibilities, Cimarron 615 effortlessly traverses everything from stripped-down acoustic arrangements to full-on three-guitar rock.
Cimarron 615’s story goes back to country-rock legends Poco and their late frontman Rusty Young, with whom all five members have musical history. When Young passed in 2021, Blue Élan Records head Kirk Pasich organized a tribute concert and album featuring the musicians who would become Cimarron 615 as the house band. The chemistry between the quintet was so palpable that Pasich offered them a record deal as a standalone touring act.
“They’ve got a history and a legacy but, make no mistake, they’re a new band,” said Pasich. “Every song on the album could be a single – it’s that strong.”
Named for the Poco classic “Rose of Cimarron” and Nashville’s 615 area code, every member of Cimarron 615 is a respected songwriter, accomplished singer, and virtuosic instrumentalist. The band features Michael Webb (Hank Williams Jr., John Fogerty) covering a variety of keyboards, plus mandolin and vocals; Jack Sundrud (Vince Gill, Great Plains) on bass and vocals; drummer/percussionist and vocalist Rick Lonow (Loretta Lynn, Flying Burrito Brothers); Bill Lloyd (Foster & Lloyd, Buck Owens) on guitar and vocals; and Tom Hampton (Marshall Tucker Band, Idlewheel) on guitars, mandolin, banjo, and vocals.
“It just felt like the natural and right thing to do, creatively,” mulled Webb, an in-demand session player who joined Poco in 2010. “All being from Nashville and all being part of the rusty Young and Poco family, we just had a natural chemistry.”
At Pasich’s suggestion, each member of Cimarron 615 contributed two songs to Brand New Distance. They devoted a day at Nashville’s storied Treasure Isle studio (Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton etc.) to each composition, with the respective songwriter acting as musical director for the session. In a testament to their cohesion and experience, the self-produced collection was essentially recorded live, with minimal overdubs.
“It’s not all just hugs and kisses – we also rub up against each other!” laughed Lonow, long among Nashville’s first-call drummers. “That chemistry is really what makes the great bands.”
Never trite and always honest, Brand New Distance imparts thought-provoking, sometimes deeply personal stories apt to its rootsy cross-pollination of styles. “It’s pretty eclectic, because we brought in two songs apiece,” said Sundrud, a part of Poco from the mid ‘80s to its final incarnation. “There’s definitely elements of Poco; elements of bluegrass; elements of blues.”
Lloyd, who made three hit albums as half of Foster & Lloyd and played alongside Young in the Sky Kings supergroup, brings a oppy accessibility à la Beatles and Big Star to Cimarron 615.
“It’s very much a democracy,” he said. “I don’t see anybody stepping out in some sort of star role. It’s a showcase for the songs.”
With vast experience in their intriguing mélange of styles at the very highest levels, authentically creating these diverse yet consistently sublime sounds is simply in Cimarron 615’s blood. “It’s almost a motor response,” offered Hampton, a recurring “semi-permanent special guest” of the Marshall Tucker Band who joined Poco in 2020. “Everybody’s got a level of familiarity with one another … a level of instinct.”
Brand New Distance may spawn as many as five singles, among them album opener “High Lonesome Stranger,” with its instantly evocative bluegrass harmonies and gone-too-soon story inspired by Gram Parsons and Hank Williams. The mandolin driven “Try Again” could be an update on the classic Poco sound that also channels a more contemporary/poppy REM influence. Meanwhile, the brooding “Cain’s Blood” wrestles with the duality of human nature – good vs. evil; dark vs. light – against an ominously tribal, minimalist groove.
“Full Bloom” is Lloyd’s upbeat, Byrds-esque love letter to the daughter he never had, while “High” is the song that the Grateful Dead’s “Uncle John’s Band” might be playing when gathered in the woods, transcending everyday troubles through escapist Cali country rock. Yet another standout is inspirational, dynamic album closer “City of Angels,” which details the thrills and doubts of a young musician moving to the big city to chase their dreams – a story common to the members of Cimarron 615 and allegoric to so many big life decisions.
With Brand New Distance due in early 2023, followed by a Rusty Young documentary also featuring the band, Cimarron 615 will be performing at Austin’s South by Southwest conference/festival in March and touring coast to coast. “The places that people can go to hear this kind of music are dwindling,” noted Hampton. “I hope we can give those people a home.”
Expect a few favorites from Cimarron 615’s illustrious pasts as well as improvised surprises that only such dues-paid musicians can provide. But the focus will be on Brand New Distance. “This is all of our investment, personal investments. And I really look forward to sharing that,” said Sundrud. “We have all this experience and history to be able to bring something that feels good to the audience.”
In the meantime, Cimarron 615’s astoundingly filler-free Brand New Distance is their ultra-accomplished calling card as a singular new act with a charmingly old soul. It’s a record that lovingly ushers forward a country rock genre too often steeped in nostalgia, offering the tingling interpersonal dynamics and adventurous spirit that only new bands can capture.
“I hope that our unique voice will stand out,” Lonow concluded. “That everyone can enjoy the beauty of the songs, the beauty of the melodies and performances, and at the same time get something deeper from the lyrics and the substance of the songs.”
Jack first became a member of Poco in the mid 80s and was the cornerstone of the lineup through the final incarnation of the band. Prior to joining Poco, Jack accompanied a host of Nashville artists including Vince Gill, Gail Davies, Gary Morris and fronted his own band, Great Plains. Jack is also a current member of Idlewheel, along with fellow C615 member Tom Hampton and Nashville songwriter Craig Bickhardt.
Piano, Hammond Organ, Accordion,
Michael moved to Nashville from his native Kentucky and was playing shows before he’d unpacked his car – and has been going strong ever since. In demand as a session player and sideman, he’s toured with everyone from Hank Williams, Jr. to John Fogerty and many in between. Michael joined Poco in 2010 and brought an element of improvisational chops that delighted longtime fans of the band. His skills as a musician and songwriter are a core element of C615.
Drums, Percussion, Vocals
Long revered in Nashville as one of the most solid, dependable drummers in town, Rick’s talents as a songwriter were known to Poco audiences as a co-writer of one of the bands’ last hit singles (Call It Love) years before his arrival in the band in 2016. A veteran of countless sessions and tours (among them a stint in Burrito Deluxe with Sneaky Pete Kleinow and Garth Hudson), Rick’s talents as a songwriter and vocalist are on equal display as his musical chops in C615.
Bill became known to legions of country music fans as one half of the duo Foster and Lloyd during a run as RCA recording artists with three hit albums under their belt. Later Bill collaborated with Rusty Young from Poco, Patrick Simmons of the Doobie Brothers, and John Cowan from New Grass Revival in the Sky Kings – and has string of solo albums to his credit that have been hailed as some of the finest guitar-driven power pop of the past 30 years.
Guitar, Mandolin, Dobro, Banjo,
Lap and Pedal Steel Guitar, Vocals
Tom was the last musician to join Poco prior to Rusty Young’s passing in 2021 – Tom had been part of Idlewheel, a band that included Poco bassist Jack Sundrud since 2008 and had also toured with a long laundry list of singer/songwriters during his many years in Philadelphia, including a multi-year stint as a “permanent special guest” of the Marshall Tucker Band. Tom’s signature style on a multitude of instruments anchors C615’s sound in the roots from whence it came.