Reagan Sloman’s acoustic offering is a potent and intimate look through the eyes of an exceptionally talented and mysterious songwriter.
If you want to gauge the quality of a songwriter, an effective litmus test is to strip their songs down to acoustic versions. Without any sort of production, you’re left with the artist at their most fundamental. There’s nothing to distract from their performance and prose. However, a drawback to this is that acoustic recordings are so often boring, feeling more like catering to the lowest common denominator—acoustic music is easy to listen to, after all—or jockeying for Spotify playlist placements and playtime in a local coffee shop. Yet, once every so often, a record comes along that feels like it needs to be an acoustic record, either by merit of its performance or its prose. A Million Fat Cows with Soft Fuzzy Ears by Reagan Sloman is one such record.
While the nine songs that make the record have an inherent intimacy that practically begs for a spartan presentation, they also bear a certain sort of intrigue in their myth-making. Some of the songs feel like tall tales, but they also feel like they’re getting at the heart of a deeper truth. This dynamic is best represented by the track “Bears.” As Sloman tells it, the song was inspired by a story told to him by a Bob Dylan doppelgänger in a dream or perhaps supernatural visitation (you can read it here). Whether or not this scenario is factual doesn’t really matter because the subtextual concept of hearing a story or an idea that deeply moves you is enriched by the background information.
A Million Fat Cows with Soft Fuzzy Ears is built around these sorts of stories. Besides the aforementioned “Bears,” which spins a brutal tale of a man mauled by bears, there’s “Neighbor Boy,” an autobiographical yarn of familial betrayal and shattered youth. It’s truly harrowing stuff, made even more so by Sloman’s completely unaffected performance. Gentler, yet also peppered with violent imagery, is the globe-trotting “Key West Postcard”—a poignant ode to the “so many golden moments of s**t” that make up a life.
The record’s less narrative-driven moments are just as good. “Stallions of Life,” the only track offered without comment in the album’s liner notes, has a killer refrain that’s been stuck in my head frequently since I first heard it. The song deals with our “perilous times,” calling out “bankers and henchman who cut off your head” and a “country so dark in imperial night,” yearning for future unity in a fractured world. The record ends on a similarly political note in “Dream Horse,” wherein Sloman fantasizes about wreaking havoc on the Nestle Corporation for their history of misdeeds.
Like “Bears,” “Dream Horse” is the record in a microcosm, representing two other key facets: the record’s potency and brutality. All of the tracks are under four minutes, and only two run longer than three. These songs have clear ideas, and they get to exploring them quickly. This gives the record a propulsive momentum despite its limited sonic palette. Brief flourishes and slowdowns—like in the instrumental interlude “Recliner” and the pauses between verses in “Key West Postcard”—paint some softer edges on an otherwise sharp-edged experience. Blood-red splashes of violence color this portrait, with nearly all of the songs containing some moment of sudden violence. Not even the titular cows are spared as Sloman’s environments are seldom forgiving, but always in some way beautiful.
A Million Fat Cows with Soft Fuzzy Ears succinctly introduces us to a songwriter with a clearly conceived artistic identity. Reagan Sloman might be the farthest thing from a “household name,” but these songs couldn’t have been sung by anyone else. Sloman’s writing and execution make much out of a little, resulting in a small record with big ideas—truly deserving to be heard by many.
Currently, A Million Fat Cows with Soft Fuzzy Ears is exclusively available for free in exchange for subscribing to Reagan Sloman’s email newsletter. You can do so here. Sloman is an American singer/songwriter and self-proclaimed “outsider musician” presently residing in Brussels, Belgium.