It is strange how your personal taste in something like music can change. Often radically. It wasn’t really that long ago that I used to claim “I like most Music, except Country” and yet now some of the most interesting, creative and emotional music that I listen to regularly now has very firm roots in Country music. Maybe this change is down to new influences within the music, influences that make it more current, modern and, to me, interesting. Or maybe it is just me changing, my tastes developing as I get older.
I believe it is a combination of both factors, certainly I am must less prejudiced these days towards any music that involves talented musicians and well written, original songs (sorry chart pop rubbish, you will never figure in my affections, I am sure) and I am certainly much more interested in music that has atmosphere and has something to say. Back in the past, if it had an almighty riff and great solos over pounding drum beats I tended to be happy. And of course, if there was swearing all the better. Nowadays creativity, originality and the ability to make me think or feel something are much more important.
All of this applies to all sorts of music. I now listen to bands with strong psychedelic sounds, lots of acoustic music, electronica and all sorts of other things as opposed to straight ahead guitar based rock n roll bands! Whilst this has all crept up on me over time, I can certainly point to the moment I realised I liked a more country based sound. It was when I first heard the fabulous Americana sounds of Berkshire band Case Hardin. Now, it was no fluke I came across this record, as bassist Tim was an old school friend, and being a supportive type I would always have given it a spin. But, I was not expecting to enjoy it anywhere as much as I did, it took up residence in the car for ages and still regularly gets an airing. And, having now seen the band live twice I can honestly say that the translation from studio to stage is impressive as well.
So what follows is what I thought of the album when it was released last year. This was first published by both The Ocelot (in an abridged version) and Green Man Music in October 2011. And, one year on I stand by my opinions, which is nice!
Case Hardin – Every Dirty Mirror
In a world filled with anodyne, pointless and superficial pop music it is one of the joys of life to stumble upon a record that has genuine heart and soul, stories to tell and a real song-writing talent behind it. That talent belongs to Pete Gow, who has assembled a motley collection of musicians around him to give real substance to his songs. Originally formed in 1999 Berkshire band Case Hardin now has a settled line-up and Every Dirty Mirror is the follow up to debut album Some Tunes For Charley Spencer. It is a slice of really high quality alt-country style Americana, just listening to it conjures images of dusty plains, rowdy roadside bars and checked shirts
Perhaps at first play this album could be tagged as yet another Brit effort at Americana, full of wholesome harmonies, plucky banjo and tales of life on the road, booze and messy relationships. But delving beneath the surface you find that as much as there is some solid Country influences and sounds here as with most Americana, it is balanced with plenty of other inspirations. Old Wooden Pews is a bluesy swagger that is pure Stones, whilst the melancholic Are Those Really The Miles is an achingly beautiful lament that has more in common with Damien Rice than Garth Brookes. The vocal has been slightly distorted, and coupled with a wailing guitar tone it is a sign of the bands willingness to step beyond generic boundaries.
Of course, there is plenty here to keep more conventional Americana fans happy. A Lullaby (…of sorts), Where Angels Fear To Tread and A Day At The Races wear their cowboy boots and Stetsons proudly. The latter is a great tale of life on the road chasing gigs and the next party. Standout track on the album is Champeen, a story of bare-knuckle boxing at the turn of the 20th Century. It is a weary and down beat tale that is full of history and atmosphere and does an admirable job conjuring up sepia toned pictures in your mind. The weaving of instruments in and out of the track is superb, and the point that the trumpet comes in with its mournful refrain is a real goose-bumps moment.
Production and musicianship on this recording are solid, but the real treat is listening to the vocals. Pete Gow’s voice is reflective, atmospheric and dripping with a genuine sound, as if he was raised on good bourbon whiskey, strong cigarettes and had the dust of the American plains in his lungs. Coupled with some impressive lyrical content this is a recording that is worth really listening too and delving deep, through its many layers and emotions. And whilst there is an underlying tone of loss and sadness, the tracks tend have a beautiful uplifting air about them which rewards the perseverant listener. Ultimately, what you end up with here is a collection of songs that transcend their genre in a positive way, but may still be too niche for serious success. Which is a shame as you can’t deny the quality on offer here.
Try it, you will love it! Go to www.clubhouserecords.co.uk for more on the band and to buy the album.