Aaron Mortenson and Jay Rutherford set out to make their debut Los Colognes album in the mold of the great JJ Cale records of the ‘70s. Working Together is parched desert country blues at its best—full of relationships gone south, one-liners that make you think twice, and slow-burning boogie woogie.
Driving to Nashville in 2010, Jay and Mort pulled out an old cassette tape with a funny label on it. “The Clones,” it read, an almost forgotten four-track recording from Mort’s uncle, circa late ‘70s—an unreleased mash-up of country and gospel music. Something about it felt right, so the duo appropriated the name for their new band.
When they got to Nashville, the Chicago singer-guitarist and drummer set up shop at the weekly East Nashville late night jam at The 5 Spot. It was here they built a forum for a rotating cast of Nashville musicians to come sit in. “It’s kind of harking back to the old Nashville—a singer, song, session cats, producers putting bands together on the fly,” says Jay. The core members including Micah Hulscher on keys and Gordon Persha on bass would soon be drafted as the backing players for Nashville artists like Rayland Baxter, Nikki Lane, and Kevin Gordon.
After a name change and three years tightening their sound and soaking up the remaining strains of classic country music in Nashville, Los Colognes’ Working Together reflects the simple but straight-on lyricism of John Prine, the unhurried grooves of Cale, with a touch Mark Knopfler’s mid-‘80s Dire Straits polish. “Just stay on the train until you feel like you got enough,” explains Mort on the band’s recording studio philosophy. The duo would bring in different players on each session, then take the tapes home to work on them some more, blending in a “soupy, random quality,” says Jay.
Working Together deals with what they joke is “the East Nashville ethos”—questions of getting older and settling down.
On the reggae opener, “King Size Bed,” with its long “Brothers In Arms”-esque intro, a woman calls out her lover—“Your king size bed has gone to your head / You thought I was sleeping but I heard what you said / You said I’d never even know you were gone”—before he tiptoes off into the night.
On "Working Together, " the album’s first single, Jay sings about trading off domestic duties. “Honey, I’ll grant your wishes, if you mow the yard,” he sings, over an impossibly feel-good summer groove. “Working together is easy, but living together is hard,” he admits, though Los Colognes make living look pretty easy.
“My favorite writers, like Cale and Prine, it’s that little twist that makes them great,” says Jay. “It’s like a good blues song—you don’t need 15 lines. You need four really good ones,” adds Mort, who acts as Jay’s lyrical filter and shares songwriting credit on the album.
Working Together’s last song, “Bird of Paradise,” creates a hazy, ambient dreamscape to end the record. “You’re a bird of paradise flying over me,” sings Jay. “I’m an ancient beach, you’re the tide / Nobody knows if it’s low or it’s high.”
Though Working Together deals with the unraveling of one particular relationship, Los Colognes have distilled things here to their universal core. After a decades-long musical partnership—writing 500 shitty songs together, Mort jokes, and fully finding their sound—this is the good stuff.