Album Review: Cole & The Thornes “UNBOUND”
Wednesday Nov. 1st, 2023
It’s a rainy Thursday in Bozeman, and I am sitting down with the ‘Songstress,’ aka Cole Thorne, lead vocalist of Cole & the Thornes, a local band with a dedicated following. We are meeting for coffee to discuss their new album, Unbound, which is being released in a few short weeks.
Cole’s voice is strong, sultry, and soulful, whether she’s enthusiastically telling me about the inspiration behind the songs (she writes the lyrics) or crooning into a mic, her ukulele grasped tenaciously in her skilled hands, to a crowd of bodies taken by the hypnotic enchantment that pours from the stage. Add bass, horns, guitar, trumpet, and sax, and we have sounds and rhythms that are irresistible for dancing. It’s not just the mellifluous, mountain-island sounds that this band has uniquely crafted that inspires you to move. The lyrics speak to the heart, and open an emotional channel that is both positive and relatable.
This is booty-shaking with a purpose! I had the pleasure of attending the album release party for Map Maker, the group’s highly acclaimed, award-winning first album that came out in 2018. That night, the Rialto was packed with sweaty, happy bodies that could not resist moving and grooving to peppy, soulful, beats. I swiped a CD at the end of the evening and it has been traveling with me for years. Whether on the dance floor or staring through a windshield for endless hours while road tripping, these songs stayed with me. So, being the long-time fan I am, I know we are in for a treat!
The first song on the album, “Mind,” is about setting positive intentions with yourself, a message many of us need. The lyrics remind us to “be careful with the words you speak to yourself, because your mind doesn’t know the difference.”
As rain tinkles on the roof of my little tin cottage, Cole thoughtfully sips her coffee and opens up to me about what inspires to her to write the lyrics that she does, and what make this music that is part gypsy-jazz, part ska, peppered with Latin influences, and salted with a bit of Baltic flavor, so delectably danceable. It’s Cole’s heart, guys, without a doubt. Guilelessly, she admits; “A lot of my songs are reminders for myself, because I struggle with my own mental health, and I’ve suffered from anxiety for most of my life. I’ve realized my self-talk is a huge part of it—what I’m saying to myself. Is my negative self-talk bringing me down, or am I speaking love to myself.”
Certainly, this is something that many of us can relate to, but it’s not only the way that Cole so candidly opens up about these oh-so-human experiences; it’s evident that her music, and songwriting, help her not only cope with these struggles, but to alchemize them. And we are all better for listening, because the music takes us on a journey into our own hearts and minds, and it gets us on our feet, too. Cole makes the point, “I just want to be playful, and to be wild and free, running around under the moonlight.” Don’t we all!
This soulful, yet playful quality certainly translates to the music. And it’s this quality that captures me and so many of the band’s fans. I mean, who doesn’t want to watch a beautiful woman with dark hair, shining eyes, and lithe, cat-like movements belting out poetry from the depths of her soul while obviously having a great time? It’s infectious! This is why we go to shows, and the chemistry of the entire band makes an irresistible musical feast for the senses. How often do we have this many instruments on one stage anymore? And man, do they make it work!
With the Songstress and her ukulele on vocals, and her longtime friend, Jordan Rodenbiker, playing a bass that grabs you by the belly and doesn’t let go, we’ve got the beginnings of a great recipe. Then we add the drummer, Alex Platt, whose beats are sure to get that booty shaking. Then, more percussion with a talking drum (just in case you’re dead and need to be revived) played by Adam Burke. Let’s not forget the guitar player, Jesse Atkins, who weaves culturally diverse tunes seamlessly together with tender fingers and a few strings. Just when you think your senses are full, we get a trumpet that lifts us on brassy highs, played by Daniel Wood. That’s a well-rounded meal, right? Well, hold on, because Matt Powell-Palm adds perfect punctuation with his sultry saxophone—and they even brought in a gawd-blessed organ player, Joe Kirchner, as a special treat. Never mind the cooking references—it’s sort of my thing—but I also know better than to try to listen to this band on a full belly, because this music is a meal!
Moving into the album, Cole tells me about the second song, “Restless.” She says, “I want high energy, fun, dancey, energetic songs, but I want to speak a positive message. I’m a very restless person. It’s a song about the restlessness that lives within all of us. I know life is hard, but recognize your self worth.” And then there’s the lyric: “If self-love is anything, it’s everything.” Swoon.
The third song, “Injustice,” widens the lens to include the social sphere. Though Cole emphatically insists “this is not political,” she also shared with me that this song was written during Covid when she, like so many of us, felt like she “had her hands tied.” No doubt it was a trying time, and I love what Cole said: “My message at the end of the day is, ‘how do we stay united during those times, and how do we live with those intentions of how to make the world a better place?’ I wrote a song.” Yes, she did, and with lyrics like this, it’s a beautiful invitation. “Don’t follow in the ways of the selfish. Live strong and hold on to your faith when all has become divided. Tap into your own intuition. Stay true to your intention.” This is what I call poetic alchemy.
“Nostalgia is such a complex feeling. I wanted to write a song that captures that emotion.” The band nails it with the fourth tune, “Nostalgia.” There is a part in the song where the organ softly tinkles, setting a tone of wistful reminiscence; then, within a few breaths, the horns come in and we drop back into the present moment with a swelling of brass grandiosity. I asked; “Do you consider yourself a person out of time?” Cole’s reply? “Of course!” But even more so, it’s a song about “taking the bad along with the good.” And what finer way to live than in grace and acceptance.
“Vagabond” comes in at song number five, and, Cole says; “I had already released the song as a single, but I wanted to give it a home.” To which I replied, “Because vagabonds are homeless.” She emits this warm, throaty chuckle. “Yeah!” And it’s a song about train hopping, which I now learn is an actual part of my friend’s past.
“Dancing with the Moon” sits at number six, and I gotta say, I love this tune! I learned this is called gypsy-jazz, and I never knew I needed something so much in my life. It evokes images of caravans, brightly colored scarves, and a jug of something mysterious being passed around a bonfire, under the moonlight. Cole and I met through belly dancing. As the drums lead us in, my hips want to make those familiar patterns—swoops and dips. She tells me, “This is a cover by Balkan Beat Box,” and I wanted that sound. So, we got the rights to it and made it our own.” Yes, they did!
We now come to Unbound’s seventh number, and the album’s title. “I’m allowed to have favorites because they’re not my kids,” I tell Cole. She chuckles throatily again. This one is a little longer, and a booty-shaker, but is also slow, hypnotic, and trancey. “I was reading the Tao Te Ching at the time I wrote this song,” Cole tells me. “For me, you can’t see the light without the darkness (yin and yang). For me the word ‘unbound’ is unbinding yourself from social stigmas, the roles you’re supposed to play, to be that wild woman.” This song scintillates your synapses all the way to your toes. You have no choice but to get up and dance.
Truly, this whole album is moving in so many ways, but you will have to hear it for yourself. I recommend getting your tickets for the release party November 10th at The Elm.
Open your mind, open your heart, and move your feet!
Justice Bartlett is a Montana-raised writer, healer, and retreat leader. You can find this dog-lovin’ mountain mamma out and about digging our beautiful Bozeman scene, or online at justicebartlett.substack.com