10 For Slim (Thirty Tigers/Cooking Vinyl)
MICHAEL CARPENTER AND THE BANKS BROTHERS
Introducing … (Social Family Records)
Old school? Never more in demand. But it don’t mean a thing if it don’t sound like it came from roots going down deep. Better yet, if it sounds like it is directly taken from then. Or best of all, if you could be easily convinced it actually existed back then.
That’s the theory, maybe even the cynical theory – in many genres, but especially in soul and country.
While one end of country music keeps finding new ways to sound nothing like something a listener might stumble across and say “hey, that’s country music, I like that” – so much so that you can practically feel the blowback of them running away hard from any history - another end wants to sound so much like “proper country, the way it used to be” that they can come across just as wilfully contrived. Maybe more so.
However, it doesn’t have to be that way. Maybe we could just listen and say, “hey, that’s country music, I like that” and, you know, just go with it. Charley Crockett, Michael Carpenter, Jy-Perry Banks and his brother Zane, sure hope so anyway.
These two albums are about love affairs with music: one essentially a tribute to a songwriter more revered among his peers in the writing rooms than known in the public’s living rooms; the other a set of original songs which pay homage to a style that occasionally comes back into fashion in the pool and beer rooms, but rarely in the boardrooms.
In short: they are traditional styles, done traditionally.
Crockett, who has on two albums since 2017 shown himself to be equal parts historian and revivalist, does more than valorise the songs of his fellow Texan, James “Slim” Hand, who died in 2020. What the man who apparently really is a descendent of one Davey Crockett does is make you experience Hand’s songs in real time. As if you, not them, have been shifted around the decades.
The languid delivery of Just A Heart is pure conversational, underplaying the voice for the sake of the simplicity, much like the gentle shuffle rhythm, and he emphasises this talking-singing in the pedal steel-weeping/beer going warm/love walking out the door So Did I.
That’s Crockett’s preferred vocal manner, even if the mode steps up a bit into a smooth dancefloor glide like In The Corner, Floor To Crawl, and Mighty Lonesome Man, or tips its hat back and kicks up its heels in the easy-paced honky tonk Don’t Tell Me That.
It means that at each turn you get the feeling that Hand’s character begins at a base of mild melancholy, from which he can dial up a measure of pleasure when necessary, but the hardest hurts aren’t ever going to hold complete sway. These are songs for indoors, rather than outdoors, but even then, for the half-lit room rather than the dark corners.
Switching from Texas to Sydney, the preferred venue for the songs on Introducing … is definitely a bright room, with space cleared for couples to move around the floor.
The styles may range from dusty honky tonk, flecks of bluegrass and some bluesy touches, to western skies giddy-up and punchy bar-room boogie, but the emphasis almost always is on what might turn drinkers into dancers.
With multi-instrumentalist and singer Carpenter seemingly capable of playing anything that doesn’t require being blown - and I wouldn’t be surprised to find he picks a horn up some time - the Banks brothers are let loose to pedal and pick. That can be fast and busy on Brothers, slowly bending in Blue Side Of Love or backporch easy on These Arms.
There’s energy aplenty and a genuine love for what they’re doing which makes grasping it easy. As does the fact the lyrics lean into popular tropes (drinking, loving, losing, drinking, death, and the road) that aren’t exactly hidden by song titles such as All This Drinkin’, Honky Tonker, Lay My Bones To Rest, and I’ll Bet She Isn’t Writing Songs About Me.
That ease makes for a very appealing record, one that all but shells the peanuts for you and refreshes your beer. And if you can find that space – with that partner – you will be enjoying yourself working up a sweat, singing and stomping along (with maybe a choosing a sigh over a tear as you join in with guest vocalist Lozz Benson on Me And You And The Other Guy).
That ease though is more problematic if you’re not on the move. The songs then come across as being an attentive fan’s enthusiastic project rather than particularly inspired. Nothing wrong with that of course, but when you’re sittin’ and listenin’, it’s writin’ where Crockett’s record has the advantage.
But then who says you have to be sitting?