The music of Beau Jennings is smudged with the fingerprints of the places he's been.
There's Cheyenne, Wyo., a place he traveled to in 2001 to take a job constructing log homes. Inspired by the Western landscape, Jennings wrote a lot of songs while he was there. In 2002, he named his new band Cheyenne.
There's Norman, Okla. - Sooner Country - where Jennings learned to be an architect and construct songs, too. The music of Cheyenne has the feel of the Oklahoma plains. It's folk-rock that sounds broad, expansive and down-to-earth.
There's Brooklyn, N.Y., the frontline of modern indie rock and the place where Jennings moved in 2005. Cheyenne's first New York album, The Whale, dropped last November, and it's punctuated with big-city keyboard elegance reminiscent of Sufjan Stevens.
Besides showcasing the places that have branded themselves on Jennings, The Whale establishes Cheyenne as a breakthrough alt-country band of 2008.
The album's musical itinerary travels the straight-ahead highway electric guitar rock, sometimes diverting into rural twang or the cosmopolitan instrumentation of keys and horns.
The title track blends these three influences better any other. "It's really your guts that let you breathe," sings Jennings on this break-up song that finds love letters wilting in the shower but refusing to be washed down the drain.
Even when Cheyenne hunkers down to roots-rock basics, the band finds a way to be original. "Broken English" begins with the same Americana guitar chords that John Cougar Mellencamp would mold into rowdy nostalgia. But Cheyenne takes a darker path into a lonely musical fog "with shadows all around us."
The most obvious influence on Cheyenne is Wilco. Jennings even sounds something like Jeff Tweedy on "Big Weather," a track that oozes country twang as much as any on the album.
But Cheyenne is hardly just another Wilco knock-off. Jennings and crew make their mark using surprise instrumental ingredients. "That Was the Ghost" drifts off in a sea of saxophone and keyboard improvisation, sounding more like piano bar fare than tavern honky-tonk.
It turns out Beau Jennings has been to more places than his native Oklahoma. His music may be rooted there, but some evenings it longs to venture far and wide.