On "Quivira," the raw, garage blues opening track on Moreland & Arbuckle's 7 Cities, set for release on Telarc, a division of Concord Music Group, singer/harmonica player Dustin Arbuckle croons, "I hollered out to Coronado/Come and meet me in The Dog/But he could not find his way/Through the morning fog." And so begins a musical odyssey that thematically revolves around the Spanish explorer and his fabled search for the seven cities of gold, which came to an end in the Kansas plains, not far from where the band lives.
"It's definitely our strongest work," says guitarist Aaron Moreland, who with Arbuckle and new drummer Kendall Newby teamed with Seattle-based producer Matt Bayles (Mastodon, the Sword) and recorded in Stone Gossard's studio. "We've always produced our own records, but this time, Matt took things to a new level sonically and brought out our best performances."
The sounds of 7 Cities are vintage rock ("Kow Tow") and twang ("The Devil and Me") with a few barnburners ("Tall Boogie", "Road Blind"), all of it rooted in the spirit of the Delta blues. "That strong pre-war blues sensibility is still there. We're still that rare trio with guitar, harmonica and drums, but we've progressed as musicians; we've brought in our other influences, and formed a pretty unique sound."
"Once we started picking out the rest of the songs for the record, we realized we had a theme - which we originally didn't intend to do," explains Moreland, who grew up in Coronado-country. (For the album cover, Peter Manchester from New Brunswick, Canada was commissioned to paint a conquistador helmet on the Kansas prairie.)
"Quivira," the opening song, is an area of Kansas where Coronado befriended the Native Americans before learning there was no gold. "The song is about ascent to power and - as so often happens when people seek great wealth or power - it all crumbles, and they come down," Arbuckle says. "That ended up being the thread for the album, right down to our version of Tears for Fears' ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World.'"
Arbuckle is quick to point out that the evidence of Coronado's quest remains in the American consciousness. "There's a very high hill in the middle of what's now farmland - which would have been open prairie when Coronado was there," he says. "It's called Coronado Heights. It's local legend that he planted his colors there and used it as a place to overlook the whole region."
"We've become a roots-rock band at this point, but I still believe part of what makes us so unique is our instrumentation," concludes Arbuckle. "You don't see other rock bands doing the guitar, harmonica, and drums thing. It's significant that this is our first album with Kendall - he has brought a lot to the table in terms of his versatility. He's a great drummer, but he's also a strong harmony singer, and has a lot of good ideas during the process of arranging the songs. He contributed a lot to this album."