You ready for story time? Because Reina del Cid is going to present you with many on her new album, The Cooling. Reina paints vivid pictures of situations over bluegrass/folk rock that blends so well that you would never guess that this is only the second album from Reina del Cid and her band, the Cidizens, and that they don’t have a record deal. Their first album, blueprint, plans, was made with money from an academic prize (Reina is brainy) and this album was a result of a successful crowd funding campaign. Through Kickstarter, enough was raised to record this album at Minnesota’s Pachyderm Studio (Nirvana, Wilco, and Babes in Toyland have recorded there.) If they can create this album as an independent band, they deserve a record deal. Reina del Cid is based out of Minneapolis and chose her stage name after naming her guitar del Cid, after an 11th-century knight from Spanish literature. Since she is the queen of her (rhythm) guitar, the Spanish word for queen is only fitting for her first name. The Cidizens are made up of lead guitarist Toni Lindgren, upright bassist Chris Wiberg, and drummer Zach Schmidt.
Often described as a nerd or well-read, Reina gives lyrics that present a story. Hopefully some of the stories are more fictional than autobiographical, for poor Annie’s sake. The album opens with “Sweet Annie,” which could be a love song until we learn that Annie is naked on the floor, possibly bleeding, and Reina is threatening to start fires and wars if Annie leaves her. The next song is kind of dark, too, with Reina warning her blind date that, like the title, “This One’s Gonna Hurt.” Somehow, though she’s singing to Sweet Annie or this new infatuated paramour, Reina paints this whole picture for the listener. Reina shows a much more subordinate side with the acoustic “Morse Code,” where she lists all the communication channels her lover could have used to dump her (he left a note on the door.) “The Fall” is a sweet love song about only needing this relationship. “The Cooling” presents the most original, possibly strangest story with someone thinking they’ve died but there’s no great white light and no one notices, so they go on pretending to be alive. So they can’t hide that they have no body heat, but they can take pills, apply blush and perfume, and fake the whole being alive thing. There’s so much to analyze in that, it’s more like the subject matter of a college poetry class that an average folk song.
I’m going to be honest and I don’t want this to be taken the wrong way, but I first thought this was a softer side project for Claudio Sanchez of Coheed and Cambria, vocals-wise (I obviously don’t do any pre-research into my review subjects.) I don’t mean this in a bad way and a few songs in I decided that Reina’s voice was too smooth to be Sanchez. Halfway through it was obviously not Sanchez. But she’s got this unique voice that you don’t typically hear and it’s a welcome difference. Also atypical is that there is no bass guitarist, there’s an upright bassist. Nothing is lacking by not having a bass guitar and Reina plays rhythm guitar. The more the merrier with those strings: “Sweet Annie” has a string quartet added in, adding some gorgeous depth. The arrangements are excellent. Toni Lingren’s guitar adds the perfect bluegrass touch and really shines on the guitar solos (there seems to be one in every song.) It gets full-on bluegrass on “This One’s Gonna Hurt.” The electric guitar on “Sweet Annie” has a rock feel and helps the song build when it is finally featured in a solo. The acoustic guitar on “Morse Code” adds to the song’s softness. The guitar adds as much feeling and emotion as the vocals and lyrics.
I can’t wrap my head around how Reina del Cid hasn’t been picked up by a record company (unless she wants it that way.) The band has developed a following through a residency at a St. Paul bar (if you can get a crowd to come out every Monday for a couple of years, you’re doing something right.) Reina also has a YouTube channel that features “Sunday Mornings with Reina” where she performs covers and original songs and posts the videos on Sundays. The Cooling is an easy listen if you want it to be, or it can give you food for thought if you want to analyze the lyrics.