Electric Cowboy: Born in Carolina Mud
There seems to be little that Jamil Rashad—a.k.a. Boulevards—can’t do expertly. His debut LP, 2016’s Groove!, was a relentless dance-funk party. The follow-up, 2017’s Hurtown, USA, was a radio-ready heartbreak record, heavy on the synth. 2019’s Yadig! was a spiky, satisfying combination of the two. For his latest, Electric Cowboy: Born in Carolina Mud, Rashad reunites with guitarist Blake Rhein of Durand Jones & the Indications, with whom he also worked on the 2020 Boulevards EP Brother!. Electric Cowboy was recorded in Chicago, and Rashad and Rhein share production and songwriting duties with Twin Peaks’ Colin Croom.
Rashad is a genre chameleon who got his start in a hardcore band before finding himself in the funk, R&B, and soul his DJ father raised him on, and Electric Cowboy flexes all those muscles while delivering something new for a Boulevards record. This one could be the product of a Marvin Gaye/Prince collaboration (if only); the production is pure, warm ’70s fuzz, matching precisely what the album’s title evokes, and the instrumentation is impeccable. One of the highlights is the searing “Modern Man,” written by Rashad and Black Pumas’ Adrian Quesada, who also plays guitar on the track. There’s also “Better Off Dead,” a duet with Nashville singer Nikki Lane. But it always comes back to the funk—there’s an effortlessly tight groove anchoring Electric Cowboy, which feels like more of a family affair than normal.
The downside is that Rashad’s usually captivating presence is less commanding than it’s been on previous records, likely due to this album’s heavy themes focusing on addiction, failed relationships, and racial oppression. Many of the album’s lyrics speak to that experience—on “Ain’t Right,” for example, Rashad sings: “Something in the air ain’t right / Barely hanging on for life… Make myself a home, fight for life, I tell ya / Leave my life alone, it’s my life.” Unfortunately, they often get swallowed up by the music, with Rashad’s vocals relegated to the background. What Boulevards does best, after all, is counter that darkness with lightness à la Prince, who knew that winding down was just as important as fighting the good fight.
Electric Cowboy is a great record with a stacked lineup and well-crafted songs, but the one thing it could use is a little more of Rashad’s sparkle, that oomph—but really, who hasn’t lost some of that lately? Rashad admits as much in the songs themselves, and it’s worth noting that the full album art features a cartoon version of him on a horse, trying to outrun his demons. So maybe it makes sense that Electric Cowboy is a more low-key affair than what we’re used to from Boulevards. He’s usually compelling us to join him on the dance floor (related: see him live, when you can), but right now, you can’t help but feel him recharging like the rest of us. Make no mistake, though: Every time a Boulevards record comes out, it’s a keeper, and this one’s no exception.