It’s not often that a genre like country is directly compatible with the nebulous, know-it-when-you-hear-it concept of indie. It’s not often when country isn’t immediately brushed off with the rolling of eyes and gnashing of teeth, either. Far safer to use the (now) near-meaningless descriptor folk if acoustic instruments are primarily involved and the influence of synthesizers is largely absent. But it’s easy to understand why haters hate. General revulsion to the genre is largely the fault of modern pop-country, with its embarrassing word bank of lyrics to choose from, uniform song structure and affected vocals (Keith Urban is fucking Australian), all of which have irrevocably distanced the word from mythic heroes like Johnny Cash or Hank Williams. The conventional wisdom has become: Stray too close to the CMT pantheon only if you’re trying to court ridicule.
On the other hand, there are scores of indie folk outfits who use the same instruments and many of the same structural blueprints to wildly different effect. Somewhere in that great expanse (it’s a wide, wide open space) separating the Alan Jacksons of the world from the Avett Brothers are Great Lake Swimmers, who, like a trick rodeo cowboy managing two horses at once, expertly take from both camps. New Wild Everywhere is a synthesis that doesn’t have much right to succeed; at times, the country air’s so strong you can smell the hay/freedom. Far more often, though, Dekker and company find the sweet spot: The record’s title track has a hammer-on hook that would make Toby Keith jealous but stops short of nausea; “Great Exhale” makes country clichés like “I’m comin’ home, so leave the light on” bearable beside gems like “I’m soaring in on the great exhale.” At times, the influence is counterproductive – “Changes With The Wind” will make you think GLS have pulled a Ben Kweller circa Changing Horses, going from earnest indie darling to country bar band in seconds. Likewise, “Cornflower Blue” shamelessly hits on lyrical commonplaces: “It’s a beautiful night to fall in love / Let’s gather the wood and burn it all down.”
Stitching it all together, though, is Dekker’s tender, fragile vibrato, which varies little but always matches the occasion, both on sweet ballads like “The Knife” and on upbeat shuffles like “Easy Come Easy Go,” which embeds meaning in those old words with “That’s what they say / When they’re about to go broke.” On songs like opener “Think That You Might Be Wrong,” which suffers from overly standard sappiness, little details like the wet pluck of an electric guitar save Dekker’s voice from getting too plaintive. Even when Dekker wanders into barren commercial-country territory, though, redemption is never far off. So keep hidden that particular grimace reserved especially for country music (honestly, we’ve all got one) – it ain’t always so bad.