Aztec Two-Step,
Days of Horses
(Red Engine, 2004)

Aztec Two-Step has been around since 1971. I've been around a couple years longer, but their 12th CD (from what I can tell looking at their website), Days of Horses, was my first introduction to their music. Two guitars, catchy folk-rock melodies, engaging harmonies and a bizarre band name -- what a combination! I'm a little late getting to the party, but better late than never, eh?

Rex Fowler is from Pittsfield, Maine, while Neal Shulman is from New York City. Their debut album (self-titled) was released in 1972. According to the promotional material, their name originated from the poem "A Coney Island of the Mind" by Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

On Days of Horses, they were joined by several other musicians on various tracks to round out their folk-rock guitar sound: Seth Farber (accordion), Irwin Fisch (piano), Pete Levin (piano), Frank Vilardi (drums, percussion), Mary Ellen Bernard (percussion), Kenny Kosek (mandolin, fiddle), Rob Papparozzi (harmonica), Jim Chapdelaine (electric guitar) and Paul Guzzone (guitar, bass, synth, drum programming).

Days of Horses starts out with the title track. The lyrics reference the time before cars, but these days, the horses are under the hood. The piano is what is going to first grab you when you hear this track. When Rex and Neal start harmonizing, it really does not matter if you are an automobile aficionado or not if you enjoy good folk music. Rex and Neal are truly at their best when singing together. Individually, their voices are decent. As a duo, their sound is much improved.

"Stargazers" is perhaps my favorite track. The two guitars and the harmonica in the background will start your toes tappin' while Rex and Neal sing about folks throughout history watching the stars. The best way I can describe this track if you are not familiar with Aztec Two-Step is to say that if these two guys were women and this was their signature sound, they would be called the Indigo Girls. (Well, the Girls' vocals are a little deeper.)

The CD closes with an amusing "gospel" track. "I Don't Believe in Jesus (but I sure do like his songs)" sounds like a good old revival tune. With lines like "I'm a Hebrew child and, baby, I don't know Luke from Paul," you'll be chuckling at the seeming sacrilegiousness of it all. Musically, however, you might be ready to be baptized in the closest river.

Aztec Two-Step has been around for more than three decades. While they may not be the world's best-known folk-rock band, they apparently have quite the following. I was surprised to learn that they had a documentary on PBS titled No Hit Wonder. They have also been on David Letterman and toured with many well-known bands.

I have quite enjoyed Days of Horses. It is a good folk-rock album. The instrumentation is better than the vocals, I think, but you may disagree. Check them out and see for yourself.

by Wil Owen
10 June 2006

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