Country Jukebox Jury LPs: Zachariah Malachi and Pony Bradshaw

Zachariah Malachi – Local Bar Opry Star

I don’t know what’s better: the name of the artist or the name of the album. After a glowing review in Country Music People, who named Zachariah the act behind their 2021 Single of the Year, I clicked play on the album to hear what all the fuss was about.

Zachariah brought it out at the very end of last year after earning rave notices for his role as fiddle player Charlie Justice in the TV drama George and Tammy. The opening passage of the album, on the title track, is some lush fiddle. Zachariah’s plain, clear voice enters, boasting of being ‘the talk of this town’. His tone is very similar to that of Aaron Watson, another local bar Opry star.

Hillbilly Me contrasts Zachariah with a girl from California who isn’t familiar with rural matters, so would she fall for a country boy? The song’s B section has some diminished chords and harmonica, and then gives way to (can you guess?) four bars of fiddle and four of pedal steel.

With his woman gone, coffee doesn’t taste right and only That Ol’ Honky Tonk keeps him going even though he leaves at 2am empty-armed. The same character laments his fate on Again I Get To Missin’ You (good title), a familiar-sounding, harmonica-assisted sigh of a song. ‘I just long to be your lighthouse when you’re lost at sea’ is a good line.

Wrecked has a wretched narrator remembering his many beatings, ‘too lovedrunk to realise’ he should escape the worst ones from his ex. The Drinkin’ Song has a train beat which underscores all the times our narrator has a bit of alcohol, even ‘in bed with you at night!’ which is perhaps why he gets so wrecked. At last, on the triple-time Little Diva, he is ‘done just wastin’ our time’ and leaves his lady for good. It is worth the singalong that ensues.

There’s a harmonica break as well as an impressive fiddle solo on Where Do You Go?, where a shuffle beat helps to create a tense mood full of questioning which ends abruptly. Bedroom 201, which has that old piano sound that those George Strait songs had in 1983, is a reminiscin’ song about the place our narrator enjoyed a fun fling as a break from reality.

Final Stages of Hank blew away Duncan Warwick in his CMPeople review. It has the feel of Lovesick Blues, with the narrator ‘losing weight’ and in despair. Seventy years after the outlaw’s death, there are still musicians paying him homage. I’d watch out for Zachariah Malachi, and not just because Duncan says so.

Pony Bradshaw – North Georgia Rounder

From an actor to a writer: James ‘Pony’ Bradshaw prefers literature to other music to inspire his art. He is in danger of becoming a songwriter’s songwriter – translation: lots of respect, smaller house than he ought to have – and this third album doesn’t disprove it. The very title of Safe In The Arms of Vernacular (‘it smells like bleach in here’) tells you who the collection is aimed at.

It is certainly rootsy, with a burbling guitar poking out of the mix on A Free Roving Mind (‘it’s in our nature to build empires’) and a clearer sound to the solo on Holler Rose, a song which ends as a waltz seemingly because it can. The title track has a finger-picked melody on guitar and a welcome groove that could inspire me to wax lyrical about it but which just made me smile.

As a sucker for what comes out of the West Coast, I was instantly hit by the cool breeze of opener Foxfire Wine, where Bradshaw brought out his Laurel Canyon croon. It was the vibrato, as well as the fiddle, that struck me on the meditative A Duffel, A Grip and My D35 (‘this ain’t no damn democracy’). No Music Row writer would dare use the word ‘erstwhile’ and think it’d survive the draft. Even Hardy.

The album’s second side continues in the same vein that must be called Americana for want of anything else (David Crosby was Americana wasn’t he?). Go Down Appalachia is a twanging toe-tapper with the phrase ‘calico skin’ in its first verse and the word ‘transfiguration’ in the chorus (see previous paragraph); Kindly Turn the Bed Down Drusilla, whose lyric seems to be about life on the road, has a similar sound, with pedal steel prominent.

Bradshaw dwells on one syllable on the chorus of Mosquitoes, holding it across seven beats and exhibiting great vocal control amid another lyrical song (‘screeching through the smoke’). Notes on a River Town ends the album on a bluesy note that echoes Bradshaw’s lament for the passing of the glory days. It reminds me of how Steinbeck used nature as a metaphor for the perils of the American Dream, and I hope Bradshaw takes that as a compliment.

He’s made a great album which answers a question posed to me the other week: what albums have you enjoyed recently? I should have said Pony Bradshaw’s.

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