Saturday, October 24, 2009

Arty Hill & The Long Gone Daddys - Back On The Rail
Cow Island

'...whatever's on sale,
Don't matter who made it, just add ginger ale' - Back On The Rail

Another superlative set of shot-sinking, slot-playing, sequin-scorning honky-tonkin' perilous paeans to love's labours lost and lusts favours gained from this exquisitely adorned label, kinda like the country compadre to the squadrons scrambling 'cross the oceans the other way for the Swiss Voodoo Rhythm label. Anyhop, on this reissue of 2005's debut (follow up Bar Of Gold was out last year, the Hank Sr tribute Montgomery On My Mind is out now n' awaiting review) Hill and his two-man assembley line plough out the sparsely-attended, softly-hewn but hard-bitten songs of heavy heft and sharp reckoning of the stripe usually associated with the Texan poets of parlous states like Guy Clark or Rodney Crowell and beyond into the deep canyons of classic country-honkin' tonic. A large feat it is, but Hill's lyrics and compositions are at a similar level as those rightly lauded eloquenteers, though not on such an epic scale. Fine lines of allusion and humour at once wink knowingly at tradition then twist its brim down over it's eyes - such as the Close Up The Honky Tonks theme of Drifting In, the deftly delineated convention-clanging relationship rancours on Me & My Glass Jaw (try 'Her right hand takes my wallet, and her left hand makes me fall' or 'She only reaches out for me after I get paid' for size) or 'She said I'm a free damn woman, and you ain't the king / Better learn to fry chicken while I hock this ring' on It Ain't Working.
As such, this trio can both shake your hips (independently of each other, suitably, as on the sunny swing through life's hard shoulder on a stage salute Living On The Road Again, the playfully suggestive appraisal of a lady and her larder on Jackson Shake, the lurching, leering Big Daddy's Rye and on upto the Sunbilly speed-fuelled truck-drivin', tyre screechin' I Ate Through The Jail), raise a few raucous chuckles and then cause your heart to drip (the gentle, folkier, subtly devastating narrative Tammerlane, When The Sparks Come Falling Down and I Left Highlandtown, which coulda been tailor-made for a Nanci Griffiths duet with Townes Van Zandt, and stay just the right side of the anti-saccharine border patrols). Meanwhile, back in dire straits, whole towns of hats should also be tossed into and shot out of the sky in honour of Dave Chappell's steak-scorching Telecaster-testifying. Whether summoning slivers of starkly moonlit succour on the bereft barhound dogged to hell title-track, abetting the hero in the slammer with some (jail)breaks to whisk 'em past prison gates or rattling out ripostes to errant, feral females it's tasteful and discreet yet succinctly conspicuous, not needing to overstep the mark to underscore a point already made perfectly well. Similarly Hill's voice dusts itself down from the higher class labels of the liquor cabinet, a smooth and softly effective matter of fact measure with a warm, rare, genial tone. With whispers of George Jones, Merle Haggard and a less sombre Townes he never strains or opts for ostentatious techniques too many use to denote emotion but really indicate a case of going through the motions - something this is definitely the polar opposite of. And furthermore, if it helps push this rekkid into the real world, then note that Jason 'Scorcher' Ringenberg is a fan and endorsee of this artfully bountiful branch of hillbilly brio and balladry. A classic from the far side of the basement bar drenched in wry, though not ironic, depictions of life's li'l ol' slinky intricacies, irritations and tribulations.
I don't know if Mr Hill is a quiet kinda guy. It wouldn't be a surprise if he is, and one who speaks sparingly at that, and, moreover, one who people should listen to.
Stu Gibson

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