Country singer Katie Brennan has an interesting backstory. She’s also a virtuoso concert harpist with a classical background. She got her start in New York leading a nebulously funky indie rock band, the Holy Bones, before going deeply into Americana with her vastly underrated 2008 countrypolitan album Slowly. Then she went back to her native Washington State for a spell. But now she’s back, leading a first-class honkytonk band, the Bourbon Express. They’re playing the album release show for their deliciously oldschool new album, One Big Losin’ Streak – streaming online – on a killer triplebill on May 31 at around 9 PM at the Jalopy. As a bonus, brilliantly guitar-fueled, period-perfect 1964-style twang and surf instrumentalists the Bakersfield Breakers open the night at 7 followed by the Country Provisions Band at 8. Cover is $10.
The new album is the best thing Brennan’s ever done. In keeping with the mid-60s vibe, the songs are short, typically around the three minute mark or less with brief, incisive solos by guitarist Brendan Curley – who also doubles on mandolin – and steel guitarist Jonny Lam. Bassist Andrew Dykeman and drummer Andrew Hodgkins keep things tight. Vocally, Brennan’s pulled back a little on the wide-angle vibrato that’s been one of her signature traits and soars to some pretty spectacular high notes, bolstered by Sarah Kinsey’s harmonies.
The album’s opening track, Don’t Turn Me Down has a touch of western swing, spiky lead guitar paired off against lingering steel. Upward Track opens with a classic mid-60s C&W riff straight out of the Don Gibson playbook, Brennan’s cheery, chirpy delivery bringing to mind vintage Dolly Parton. Last Dance features a tasty handoff from mandolin to steel midway through.
Party Girl, which is more or less the album’s title track, will hit the spot for anybody whose work week feels like one long losing streak. Which Wine Goes with My Heartache follows a droll, Amy Allison-style storyline: Brennan might not be the most likely person to answer that question, considering that she’s a whiskey drinker.
The Texas shuffle I’m Not Ready is a period-perfect 60 Tammy Wynette bad girl honkytonk number. Let’s Say ‘I Do,’ told from the point of view of a girl who likes “Roping old cowboys in smoky old bars, turning their pickups into getaway cars,” has a trick ending: like the music, Brennan’s lyrics look back to an earlier era when Nashville songwriting was full of all kinds of puns and one-liners. But the funniest song here is Your Love Is Better Than Nothing: the joke is a musical one tha goes back and forth, and is awfully tricky to play, and too good to spoil here. Slippin’ Around brings back the western swing sophistication; the album winds up with Those Days Are Gone, a gorgeously bittersweet love song that turns out to have a happy ending.
The Bakersfield Breakers have an amazing debut album of their own streaming at Bandcamp. If memory serves right, their most recent show around these parts was upstairs at 2A back in March, where guitarist Keith Yaun put on a clinic in just about every instrumental country and rock style from the 50s and 60s, with a harder-rocking and more surf-oriented edge than you’d guess after hearing the album. Some pretty volcanic Dick Dale and Ventures covers were part of that, but the best song of the night was a sad, wistful original that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Duane Eddy playbook.