Lasers Lasers Birmingham

Warning

Lasers Lasers Birmingham

2019

What constitutes a country music album in 2019? How about twenty, or forty years ago? Would the answer be the same? In 1979, the CMA pegged Kenny Roger’s album The Gambler as album of the year, while the award for single of the year went to the Charlie Daniels Band’s The Devil Went Down to Georgia. Go back another ten years to when we last set foot on the moon and Nixon was just in the White House, and those same CMA awards went to Johnny Cash’s At San Quentin album and his single A Boy Named Sue. The CMA award for female vocalist of the year in ’69 and ’79 were Tammy Wynette and Crystal Gayle respectively. No one is going to argue with you about the country credentials of Tammy Wynette or Johnny Cash, but what about the countrypolitan pop stylings of Crystal Gayle or Kenny Rogers? Times, tastes and styles change, in country music as much as anywhere else, thankfully.

The man behind the moniker - Alex Owen is Lasers Lasers Birmingham

LA-based Alex Owen is not exactly a country singer, in the way that Gram Parsons was not really a country singer, at least not like George Jones or Ernest Tubb were country singers. That doesn’t mean that his new Lasers Lasers Birmingham album, Warning, is not a country album, in the way that Grievous Angel was, without doubt. There’s steel, fiddle and tele-twang aplenty backing up Owen’s 21st century country rock styling, stoned waltzes and honky tonk laments, ticking the boxes on instrumentation and time signatures. Lyrically, these songs lean towards the cosmic end of the country rock spectrum, with a subtle world-weariness bordering on acceptance of the half empty glass that is life today. As Owen  puts it, nobody’s asking for perfection, but it can’t hurt to approach it, surely. Lasers Lasers Birmingham doesn’t try to reinvent any wheels here, or to set them on fire. In fact, there is enough heart worn on the LLB sleeve to recognise the touchstones and guess at the record collection  this sound has coalesced from, the albums and artists that Owen tends towards; particularly Parsons, potentially Gene Clark, probably Eagles, this is Californian country rock, after all.

Warning is the first full-length album from LLB, and the country rock setting for the songs suits Owen’s material well, as does the loving production of Jason Soda (who has worked with a couple of other WP favourites,  Gospel BeacH (a great live band to see, fronted by Brent Redemaker of Beechwood Sparks) and Miranda Lee Richards, on her lovely album Existential Beast). There was a four track EP, Royal Blue, released in 2016, which shows the direction Lasers Lasers Birmingham was moving in to get to this current album. It is interesting to compare the title track, Warning, with the version from 2014, where the sound is not country rock at all, rather a slightly baroque pop, more a cross between the Beach Boys and Pink Floyd  than the Flying Burrito Brothers. You can check out this early version on Bandcamp.

The Royal Blue EP form 2016

Warning is no pastiche of the past, mind you. This album is a very modern take on the classic formula, a record that deserves repeat listening, packed full of melody as it is, hooks to hold you, until it makes you reach for that battered copy of GP. Alex Owen has created a sound of his own using the same ingredients his favourite artists have used for decades, but his is a modern sound, one that should chime with a broad audience, if there’s any justice. Warning is a country record that should appeal to fans of Bon Iver as well as fans of Bobby Bare, and that’s no mean feat.

Tony Sexton

James Scott Bullard

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Full Tilt Boogie

Big Mavis

2018

The adage would have us believe that a leopard never changes his spots. So, I guess, James Scott Bullard must be some other kind of cat altogether. A collection of his earlier tracks titled The Rise and Fall of… (recently released on Big Mavis, remastered and repackaged) presents tracks from his first four albums, all now out of print. The music on The Rise and Fall… would never knowingly upset the neighbours in the way that Full Tilt Boogie promises to do. The Rise and Fall… is a strong collection of songs, showing influences from the classic country rock of Gram Parsons and the Rolling Stones to modern Americana singer-songwriters such as Justin Townes Earle and Ryan Adams. In fact, Bullard released an EP titled Oh This Land (A Tribute to Gram Parsons) in 2015, which may see its way to being reissued at some point, but listening to Full Tilt Boogie for the umpteenth time, the same question arises again and again; just what happened to this guy in the intervening years between his first records and this new one? The love songs have soured, the gentle country rockers have become distorted and amped up, the general vibe is far greasier and hungover. In short, the new album has got a whole lot more Whiskey Preachin. I worry that Bullard may have started carrying a flick knife instead of a comb.

Full Tilt Boogie kicks in from the very first distorted guitar chord of Lord, Have Mercy, like a heavy country gospel tune gone to the dark side, a cry for a soul to be saved before it’s too late. When the second track, Wicked Ways, kicks in, we know it’s already too late. The guitars are still distorted but the drums are pounding a much faster tempo and the organ is squeaking out all that damn honky tonk rock and roll. Then you get to the breakdown you know you’re in for a real good time! All to Pieces lays off a little, but only a little, allowing you to regroup before the Chuck-Berry-on-steroids of Hey Hey Mama kicks in, with lyrics like “I’m gonna love you mama like it’s against the law” stoking the fires. Track six, Jesus, Jail or Texas, has to be my favourite, possibly the most country track on the album, with a nice shuffle beat and fantastic lyrics telling of the different ways that women have managed to escape our protagonist: “One girl she went to Texas, two that went to jail, there or four found Jesus and the rest can go straight to hell”. The guitars are still distorted and there’s plenty of nice slide action, like ZZ Top fronted by Kinky Friedman. Leavin’ on My Mind ramps up the tempo to a furious, demented, pace, taking us on a break-neck tour through Texas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Carolina, anywhere but here.

Is this a country album with pretentions towards being a rock record, or a rock album masquerading as a country record? Isn’t that just a stupid question? Does is really matter, if it sounds this good? At Whiskey Preachin, this is what we would describe as 100% bona fide Gumbo Rock, music that mashes up its influences and comes out with something fresh, a new sound made up of recognisable parts but for which no one signifier is sufficient to describe it. Bullard was raised up in South Carolina with a country and bluegrass musician for a father. As a kid, he grew up loving heavy rock but was surrounded by the music that later influenced him to start making the music on Full Tilt Boogie; the Southern rock of Lynyrd Skynrd, Tom Petty and The Allman Brothers (whose influence shines on the album’s closing track, Back to You), the classic rock and roll of Little Richard and Elvis and pure honky tonk of the world’s first punk rocker, Hank Williams; all these influences can be heard when listening to Full Tilt Boogie, so it’s little surprise that we love it at Whiskey Preachin. After all, these are the same artists that form the bedrock on which we built our shack. Why would we want to hear anything else?

Tony Sexton

Ole Whiskey Revival

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Ole Whiskey Revival

Ole Whiskey Music

2018

It's not every day that you get to rack up a global first, but that's just what we managed to do with the May 2018 Whiskey Preachin Radio Show. Without even realising it, we became the first radio show anywhere to play a track off the eponymous debut from Ole Whiskey Revival. You can give that show a listen right here, just click play on the link below, Ole Whiskey Revival are the third tune in. It wasn't easy picking a track to play on the show, the album is packed with gems, but, after listening through half a dozen times, I eventually chose to play Ramblin', a funky slice of Waylon-esque outlaw boogie that closes the album, inviting you to press play again.

Ole Whiskey Revival hail form Shreveport, Louisiana, home of the Louisiana Hayride back in the fifties and now home to this band of bourbon-soaked rabble rousers. Formed just four years ago by four old school friends, Alex Troegel (lead guitar and lead vocals), Trent Daugherty (guitaer and vocals), Steve Hensley (bass) and Ryan Alexander (drums and percussion), this is their first release, but you wouldn't think so to listen to it. Their command of the material and their confidence with it's presentation would suggest that these guys have enough albums behind them already. The four of them are all involved in writing the songs on the album, but Trent explained to me that Moonshine Melody was actually written by Alex while he was still in high school and that Ryan has been on a roll recently, writing the bulk of their newer material.

 

OWR's masterful combination of good time Southern rock and seventies outlaw country is so well conceived, played and produced that it's possible to think someone is having a joke at your expense, playing you a long-lost classic that you've somehow missed out on for decades. It's a short album, clocking in at just under 34 minutes, but that is just another one of its charms, drawing you back to the beginning one more time. 

I'm hoping we rack up another first with this review, but, more importantly, I hope more reviews and radio play are just around the corner. This band deserve some recognition and plenty of sales. Do yourself a favour and hunt down Ole Whiskey Revival where ever you like to get your music form. If enough of us buy a digital copy, maybe the band will be able to press up some vinyl, I for one would happily buy it again.

Tony Sexton

Western Centuries

Songs from the Deluge

Free Dirt Records

2018

It’s a beautiful thing, waiting for the follow-up to a favourite album from a band you’ve already decided to love. Even better is hearing that highly anticipated second album and knowing it will be a strong contender for your album of the year, in February! Songs from the Deluge is that album and Western Centuries are that band, five extremely talented and modest musicians whose diverse musical backgrounds and tastes have coalesced into the best damn country band around, if they don’t mind me saying so. With a sound that is at once classic and modern, part Saturday night and part Sunday morning, Songs for the Deluge sees Western Centuries take their song craft to the next level, with the three songwriters and vocalists, Jim Miller (Donna the Buffalo), Ethan Lawton (Zoe Muth & the Lost High Rollers) and Cahalen Morrison (Country Hammer) sharing duties and bringing their own flavour to proceedings.

 

Kicking off the album is Lawton’s Far from Home, a tale of conscription and Vietnam dressed up as a Cajun-tinged dancer, with the added spice being brought by Grammy-winning producer Joel Savoy’s fiddle and Roddie Romero’s sweet accordion. (I was lucky enough recently to catch Savoy and Jesse Lége playing an intimate gig with their Cajun Country Revival band, and what a joy it was. Check out Savoy’s Valcour label for plenty of tasty Cajun treats). Lawton brings several of the albums highlights to the table, including the goodtime party tune Own Private Honky Tonk (a WP favourite Friday night spin) and the hungover, heart-breaking Southern soul of Three Swallows, the sort of country music you might expect to come out of Muscle Shoals.  Morrison’s Earthly Justice keeps the groove solid for the second song on the album, funky drums, licking steel and rippling Rhodes combining in a head-nodder that keeps the groove in the pocket nicely when it hits double-time. The third track in, Wild Birds, sees Jim Miller step up to the mic for his tale of a band on the road, trying to get home. By this point, if you’re not hooked or converted, you’d better call an ambulance baby, somebody needs to check your pulse. By the time you get to Warm Guns at the end of the album, with Morrison’s Spanish vocal bringing the South-western vibe, you’ve been on a road trip for the ears, taking you through the venerable musical landscape of American roots and country music.

 

There is a lot of great music being released right now. Sometimes it is all too easy to move on to the next album, then the next, failing to allow yourself time to become fully immersed in one record for long enough to become truly familiar with it. Having lived with Songs from the Deluge for nearly three months at the time of writing, it is safe to say that this is one album that has bucked that trend, and, I feel sure, will continue to do so. It is kept at the front of the record box, in easy reach of the turntable, regularly receiving repeat spins. I suggest you all do the same, this is one of those records that makes the world a better place to be.

Tony Sexton