CAITLIN HARNETT AND THE PONY BOYS
All Night Long (Spunk)
THERE ARE FEW MORE ENJOYABLE, occasionally riotous but always “happening”, things than Caitlin Harnett and the Pony Boys on stage. With intra-band and band/audience banter firing across it, the party time comes naturally as they throw themselves – sometimes literally – into everything at full tilt. There’s country, there’s rock, these classic ‘70s adult pop and a degree of blue-eyed soul, but most of all there’s energy.
And while some of that could be put down to contributing elements (let’s say drinks may be involved on occasion), it is mostly down to a desire to enjoy the hell out of the show themselves, figuring the rest of us will feel the same soon enough. And we do, noisily.
However, not so secretly under that big hat, Harnett may really be most at home in the aftermath of the party, in the (relative) quiet … in the hurt.
That at least is where her second album with her horsey companions settles most deeply, and strikes most effectively. Shit has gone down since we last heard from them – 2020’s Late Night Essentials – a fair bit of valuing/revaluing has been done, and this is the tear-stained evidence.
Which isn’t to say this is 10 lonely ballads looking for a hug, for there is more meat on these emotions than that.
For example, Max’s Song may find Harnett repeating “Please don’t ask me to be happy” as the song ends, but this request/refusal – the potential for both to be true is a defining aspect of the track – has been preceded by an organ-forward climax to a heavy atmosphere of backroom electrics and click-and-drag drums.
Reversing that pattern, Can’t Have It broadens out from an opening of single guitar and forlorn voice in echoing empty space into a Smiths-like chugging rhythm and stately guitar progression as Harnett says “I gotta thank you baby for giving me a sign/For I would have stuck around and stuck it out while you wasted my time” and the message is of strength not weakness.
Even Even Cowgirls Cry comes with a charming guitar figure, a creamy chorus and a buoyant soul/rock brass element that Chris Bailey liked to deploy in his version of The Saints, all while Harnett declares to the swine of a swain that she won’t cry anymore but jeez buster why did you have to come back around here. And if you’ve ever wondered what it might sound like to have a song made by Stevie Nicks being backed by the Jayhawks – West Coast wistful late summer meeting Midwest winter prettiness – let me introduce you to Sidelines.
So, no, All Night Long is not some fixed-mood Caitlin Harnett Sings For Only The Lonely, but yes, it is suffused with a deep soak of disappointment and sadness. And Harnett feels right at home here.
Here in the slow, slow burn of Only Dreaming, where her voice occasionally flies off and reverberates in an empty canyon while the heavily soaked guitar marches on. In the bruised blues meeting washed out torch song of If I Don’t Have You that perfectly segues into the just-clinging-on-to-hope Waiting For Something (“I can’t keep sitting around, waiting for something to happen/Looking like some sad clown on stage all dressed up with all the lights out”) whose mandolin flutters as a beacon you fear is always seconds away from being snuffed out.
And in the opening I’ll Get By, whose first lines are “I don’t hate myself anymore/Since you left I’ve been standing tall”, whose Crazy Horse-ish guitar reinforces biting lines like “Think you’re some kind of superstar/Well baby your band didn’t get too far”, and yet whose undertone is a sense of someone who is working hard to convince herself she believes all she is saying and any minute now will feel everything she’s claiming.
Some 41 minutes later, as the album ends, that work is still going on. Party time postponed, for now.