Country Jukebox Jury LPs: Whiskey Myers and Vandoliers

Whiskey Myers – Tornillo

This sixth album opens with a full minute of Mariachi trumpets, lest we forget that the band are from Texas. With the live horns and what sounds like few overdubs, it puts me in mind of a Later…With Jools Holland performance. It’s less rootsy than their recent albums but it will sound extraordinary live. The band have a packed schedule for the rest of 2022 but will surely be eyeing up a European jaunt next year.

John Wayne is a proper band number which, impressively, kicks off the album with panache. Ditto Bad Medicine and Antioch, where horns stab, backing vocalists chime in and, on the latter, lead singer Cody Cannon purrs about there being ‘hell to pay’ and daddy going somewhere. The lyrics are definitely secondary to the sound of the band.

The fun rocker Mission To Mars was co-written by Cannon and Aaron Raitiere, who is hot right now; Cody sings of acid rain falling onto his bean fields and wants to join the ‘rich folks’ going to live in space like Han Solo in a Stetson.

The oddly punctuated Feet’s returns us to earth. It’s a driving rock song where Cody keeps his ‘eyes on the horizon’ (Clarkson would adore this album, naturally). There’s a bluesy ‘shoop’-filled breakdown halfway through. Other Side chugs like a Tom Petty tune and opens with ‘my daddy was a ramblin’ man’. Heart of Stone starts like a Guns N’ Roses ballad with Cody muttering about reflections and dark sides. The guys have a great record collection.

John Jeffers, who offers a great slide guitar solo during Antioch, contributes Heavy On Me and Whole World Gone Crazy. The former gets stuck in a groove via some acoustic pickin’, while the latter laments the state of the world in a familiar but welcome manner.

After twenty minutes of riffs and horns on the first side of the album, For The Kids offers some more traditional country-rock where the melody takes precedence as well as a chant of ‘We don’t have to be happy!’ Side B opens with The Wolf, where Cody is ‘howlin’ at the moonlight’ and puts me in mind of Dave Grohl and his band Foo Fighters.

It’s no surprise that Whiskey Myers albums end up near the top of the charts in the US. When done well, rock’n’roll is still a fine way to get the blood pumping.

Vandoliers – The Vandoliers

This lot are loud, nasal and good fun, and will hype up the crowd for Mike and the Moonpies this autumn, having done the same for Turnpike Troubadours and Flogging Molly already this year. That is a great way to describe their sound: rootsy punk with a spirited Texan feel. It’s another band record, with Travis Curry’s fiddle prominent and Cory Graves plonking a keyboard in between work by the brothers Fleming, Joshua (vocals) and Dustin (guitar).

The songs are singalongs full of chantable choruses that mimic those of Turnpike and Molly. Bless Your Drunken Heart is pure Molly, with Joshua’s vocal coming from the back of his throat a la Jaret Ray Reddick from Bowling For Soup. Down And Out is pure Turnpike with a narrator ‘shattered into pieces…rock bottom’ and smoking the night away remorsefully. Dustin adds a particularly good solo on the latter.

Too Drunk To Drink also has a Texmex, Mavericks-y shuffle, but Raul Malo would never sing a lyric of this sort: ‘Where you from, girl, can I get a ride home?’ comes from a cheeky narrator who is borne on the trumpet riff that trades melodic ideas with Travis’s guitar.

Every Saturday Night (‘I took for granted every Saturday night’) starts with the hook and continues without letting the backbeat go, almost obscuring the narrator’s sorry tale (‘we should have danced when they turned out the lights). Howlin’, which is accompanied by a marvellous and funny video, grabs the listener instantly thanks to eight bars of fiddle and eight of harmonica. Joshua’s vocals are keening (‘as my heart breaks in two…lonesome and blue’) and he captures the mood of the song expertly.

Before the Fall, with its introductory horn riff, is what counts as a ballad by Vandoliers standards. I Hope Your Heartache’s A Hit is a fine kiss-off written by Cory, with a mighty piano solo in the middle of it. Steer Me Wrong is redeemed by a fine chorus, while Better Run has the vocal verging on the Kip Moore with talk of ‘the men in blue coming after you’. It’ll be a live favourite and would sound great segueing into their set closer, I’m Gonna Be by The Proclaimers(!)

Wise County Friday Night – the place is north-West of the conurbation of Dallas-Fort Worth where the band are from – ends the album in a party mood. By the creek at 4am, Joshua’s ‘hands drew constellations on her back and down her spine’ and fiddle, guitar and keyboards get to solo handsomely. It’s a fine album which, tantalisingly, fades into the distance. I didn’t want it to end.

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