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Tag: Jonny Lam pedal steel

The New Bourbon Express Album: State-of-the-Art Hard Honkytonk

The Bourbon Express are as good as it gets in hard honkytonk. To get the sound perfect for their new album Cry About It Later – which hasn’t yet hit their Soundcloud page – they brought in the king of Americana and twangy rock guitar, Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, to produce. The result is a purist blend of classic 60s C&W and harder-edged urban country. They’re playing the album release show this Saturday night, April 21 at 10 PM at Hank’s; cover is $8.

The album’s first track is Pick Me Up, swinging along over the groove from Andrew Dykeman’s bass and Phil Cimino’s drums. This isn’t your ordinary drinking song: frontwoman/rhythm guitarist Katie Curley insists that she needs enough to get her through the whole month!

Co-leader Brendan Curley spaces out his incisive Telecaster licks in Devil’s Angel, which has the feel of a Tammy Wynette hit from the late 60s, but with the guitar sting of the best Brooklyn country bands from the past fifteen years or so. Turn the Page – an original, not the Metallica hit – traces a bittersweet story through a family album, Jonny Lam’s pedal steel lingering in the background. Katie’s last line of the song is shattering, an ending too good to give away.

Take Me Out has a gorgeous blend of resonant guitar and steel, along with Melody Berger’s fiddle, not to mention one of the album’s most plaintively affecting vocals. Dream Girl, an aptly starry waltz, is probably the only honkytonk song ever to feature a concert harp. Katie also plays that instrument throughout her two intriguing, previous albums of Americana-laced parlor pop songs, originally released under her maiden name, Katie Brennan.

With its spiky twelve-string guitar textures blending with the steel, Ten Gallon Hat could be a female-fronted Byrds circa Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Brendan switches to saloon piano on Dilly Dally, Katie enthusing about the joys of being a homebody with a glass of red wine in her hand.

The album’s most aphoristic, retro 50s song is Blame It on the Hangover, a cheater’s cautionary tale. The title track keeps that theme going – “Laugh about it now, cry about it later.” The real classic here is is Five to Nine, a Take This Job and Shove It for everyone stuck in the electronic sweatshop. “I’ll probably have to drink alone tonight ‘cause I had to turn off my phone,” Katie laments, “You’re trying to keep me on the virtual clock while I’m trying to get offline.”

The album winds up with Cold Quiet Drink, a subdued Amy Allison-ish ballad with Brendan moving to mandolin, Ambel on acoustic guitar and Jason Mercer on bass.

A Fantastic Honkytonk and Twang Triplebill at the Jalopy on the 31st

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.
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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.