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Monday, August 31, 2015

Brinsley Schwarz: Despite It All


1) Country Girl; 2) The Slow One; 3) Funk Angel; 4) Piece Of Home; 5) Love Song; 6) Starship; 7) Ebury Down; 8) Old Jarrow.

Hey hey, pack up the mules and ride out west — on their second album, Brinsley Schwarz seem to have caught the country flu head-on, even if they also continue to be influenced by Van Mor­rison along the way. The main units of adoration, though, are by now firmly on the other side of the Atlantic: The Byrds, The Burritos, and The Band are all carefully studied as textbook material and, if possible, strictly imitated. Thus, already the album opener, ʽCountry Girlʼ, is a fun, sweet, innocent little bopper, but 100% derivable from ʽYou Ain't Going Nowhereʼ, except that, of course, lyrics like "I want to go where my country girl goes / Back where my green-grass roots are growing" are just way too flat as an allegory when compared to "Genghis Khan, he couldn't keep / All his men supplied with sleep", and the collective group harmonies of Brinsley Schwarz do not even begin to compete with the lonesome timbre of Roger McGuinn. Nice fiddle part from guest star Willy Weider, though. Really countryesque and all.

Everything else, too, sounds and feels strictly like a bunch of genre exercises: despite having written all but one of these songs, Nick Lowe hardly seems to have any serious connection with the material, so that something like ʽLove Songʼ, a very straightforward soft-rocker, simply states that "this here is a love song, I gotta get back to my baby's heart again", rather than sets out to prove it in some sense-perturbing manner. All I know is, if I were Nick Lowe's baby, he wouldn't even get back to my front porch with this barely tepid carcass of a song. Or take ʽStarshipʼ — theoretically, a likeable country waltz, but not half an inch different from a million generic coun­try waltzes. So... uh... they can keep up the tempo, and they have a pretty slide guitar tone. Does that rate a B+, or an A- on the regular Nashville curriculum?

I would say that the only song on this album where they are trying at least a bit is ʽOld Jarrowʼ, the closing seven-minute country-rock epic where the country instrumentation is continually spiced up with sharp, high-pitched lead guitar parts. The lyrics (as you can see from the song title) have nothing to do with country-western themes, and the song just uses a country setting to even­tually explode into a really fierce barrage of guitar-hero soloing (although for contemporary guitar heroics, that tone is still impossibly thin — Marc Bolan or Mick Ronson would have eaten these guys alive). A respectable attempt that still fails to justify its running length, let alone sal­vage the album as a whole.

Another thumbs down here, as the apprenticeship period of Brinsley Schwarz enters yet another phase — the most fascinating thing about it all being that, you know, Capitol Records were still willing to back them for this one. Today, they would probably have shipped them straight away to songwriting school, under the tutorship of Max Martin. No, wait, for this line of work, Kelly Clarkson, probably.

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