If you’ve never heard of Milton Mapes, don’t show up to their live gigs expecting to find Milton. My favorite band ever, Milton Mapes, is an alt-country group formed as a duo in Austin, Texas, United States, in 1999, by singer/guitarist Greg Vanderpool and Roberto Sánchez and named after the band member Vanderpool’s grandfather. It just as easily sounds like a character from some lost Western epic.
The project was born from Vanderpool and Sánchez’s experience of Deep Ellum, in Texas. Theirs are songs not about people or situations, just the moments that we all go through as we strive to find a place to belong, easily sticking on the mind. It all began with a sunset In The Corner Where It All Began and it was the kind of thing that makes most sense when you immerse yourself in it.
After spending a year compiling songs in Nashville, Milton Mapes released The State Line, its first album, which consisted of a 7-song CD, in 2001. The band’s music was western and shot through with splashes of spiky electric guitar, which drew comparisons to Neil Young (Harvest) or Bruce Springsteen (Nebraska) and was well received by regional press. Soon after, it became a four piece, when Britton Beisenherz and Jim Fredley rounded out the group.
While maintaining their roots, the band knew the power of understatement, so they released Westernaire in 2003 on the Aspyr Media label, which sounded much less country than the title might suggest. The graceful Southwestern strum on “Silverbell” is all Vanderpool, but the fire doesn’t burn quite as bright on its debut, newly reissued by Aspyr. An electric guitar burns like the red clay, bridge and chorus outlawed, making it feel like a John Ford film.
My favorite song is This Kind of Danger and never have I heard anything like it before, inspiring integrity and loneliness in a ride of ups and downs. Two years later, The Blacklight Trap was the third of the several critically-acclaimed albums, a full-length one, on the Undertow label. The quintet added nothing to the roots-rock equation, and it borrowed from the best, which is why The Blacklight Trap songs are steeped in the smoldering guitar anthems of Crazy Horse, but what sets this music apart is the distilled poetic despair of its songwriting, reffering to the tragic fate of the Cherokee Nation, or the wistful longing of separated lovers and thus evoking a stark and beautiful landscape of the heart.
Shady Valleys was later released as a downloadable EP collection and compilation of B-Sides and Outtakes, in late 2005, before morphing into Monahans. Now, it shared bills with an assortment of its respected Texas acts such as Cowboy Junkies or Willie Nelson. It disbanded in 2006-2007 when they embarked on a new project and released their first disc, Low Pining, which steered hard into even more cinematic territory.
After ten years, the band reunited for a show at the Continental Club, for a night of sparse desert-rock, and for good reason.