A supergroup, n., is an act that brings together musical personalities too stubborn or sizeable to fit inside a normal band. This goes triple for Traveller, the country-rock-folk-whatever supergroup comprising Robert Ellis, Cory Chisel, and Jonny Fritz. On their premier album, Western Movies, their talents combine without losing in the slightest their signature stamps and fortes. Cory Chisel is the same one-man melody machine behind Wisconsin’s Wandering Sons. Jonny Fritz, as usual, fills verse after verse with his spot-on lyricism and sharp-edged scenes from daily America. And Robert Ellis is the eerily talented composer, breaking down everything and flawlessly rebuilding it back up with a Rubber Soul-like finality.
Originally formed on a lark to play Newport Folk Festival, Traveller reunited a year later at Cory’s 57-bedroom monastery in Appleton, Wisconsin, to cook up a record in the iciest bite of January. For ten days they wrote, and for ten days, they recorded. With the Fox river frozen over,and three bald eagles circling outside their windows, they half-jokingly likened themselves to these birds in flight: freedom-loving, but hovering the grounds until the record was done. This independent spirit is what gives Western Movies its happy, pass-the-mic variety, just as the trio’s playfulness makes it feel like a young man’s clubhouse where the checkers are jumping and the root beer flows freely. The record carousels from the made-for-the-convertible namesake “Western Movies,” to the grinning and seductive “Hummingbird,” to the pining “When You’re Away,” which Robert penned in a caffeine binge as Jonny and Cory were dropping hundreds at a Croc’s Outlet Store. A cooly moonlit “Lonely All My Life” alternates with the holiday warmth of “Christmas Eve at Kroger,” hymnifying “Sugar cereal... Lil’ projects with the cousins...Eating Cracklin Oat Bran… and watching Diehard with my Mom.” Western Movies is, in short, a collection— an entente between three big musical personalities who stopped razzing each other just long enough to make a true work of art.