The Great Western Tears “Tales From Tallows” (Independent, 2016)

Back in May of 2015 I reviewed the debut EP from Oxford’s The Great Western Tears giving it a big thumbs up and noting them as a band to watch out for. Well here’s the album and thankfully they haven’t let me down as it’s a very fine listen indeed. They remain a band who are steeped in the ethos of country music but there’s little of the Ameripolitan ambition which fuelled their song The Late Great Man In Black on the EP. Instead, the songs are intimate ruminations, late night musings, acoustically based with Kurt Hamilton’s pedal steel adding atmosphere. The release notes state that much of the album is based on the well travelled singer David Waterhouse’s time spent in the States (Big Sur) and the Antipodes (Tallows refers to a beach in Australia) but overall it’s just a fine travelogue of well trodden routes brought to life by a talented bunch of travellers. Waterhouse’s voice remains somewhat deep although versatile and his harmony duetting with Fern Thornton is one of the highlights here (with Jodie Cooper adding her voice on occasions). Guitarist Garry Richardson is incisive and dexterous as the rhythm section briskly get down to business. Hamilton’s pedal steel is the foremost ornamentation but there’s some fine fiddle, mandolin, keyboards and harmonica in the mix, the whole delivered with a creamy country folk flavouring which at times recalls the likes of Gordon Lightfoot and Micky Newbury.

It’s the easy swinging rhythms of Dan Hicks which come to mind however on the opening song Hang My Hat as Waterhouse introduces a topic that flits throughout the album of break up and separation. The jaunty country lope of Misty tells the tale of an estranged couple thinking of each other in the fogbound west coast of California and Whatever The Cost dips into Lee Hazlewood territory for some cosmic cowboy musings on roads not taken and Hazlewood again looms large on the rippling ersatz country pop of A Part Of You. Mistakes is another take on hindsight but the delivery here is more akin to the pared down country folk of the seventies as is the spectral Bid Her Well with its melancholic pedal steel playing, Waterhouse the phlegmatic loser in love. Not The Losing Kind opens with bottleneck guitar which recalls Dark Was The Night as Waterhouse portrays a relationship as a series of bets. The titular Tallows seesaws musically and lyrically between the joy of young love and a premonition of its end as Waterhouse sings of running naked on the beach but acknowledging that “we grew apart from the start,” the band impressionistic here, dolorous at first before a last burst of fiddle swept optimism. They return to the beach for a spiritual cleansing on the closing Blue Checks, White Cotton, the McGuffin here the memory of a dress worn at the time as Waterhouse and Thornton trade memories before the song blossoms into a Gospel like jubilation.

Author: Paul Kerr

Still searching for the Holy Grail, a 10/10 album, so keep sending them in.

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