Ags Connolly “Nothin’ Unexpected” (At The Helm Records, 2017)

Who doesn’t love Ags over-easy? Bob Harris really digs this new offering from Ags Connolly. He’s already played several tracks on his show and it’s easy to see why it has got him all stirred up. Ags has teamed up with a sterling group of musicians that includes Michael Guerra from The Mavericks on accordion, and Grand Ole Opry stalwart Eamon McLoughlin on fiddle.  Released on the tuned-in Brighton-based At The Helm label which specialises in releasing ‘un-scrubbed Americana music’, it has been three years since Ags’ first release, How About Now, but the wait has been worth it.

Ags is totally upfront about being somewhat slow when it comes to writing, but he says he ‘wanted the album to be really special’ adding, ‘I wanted to ensure it met people’s expectations while also evolving from my first album’.  Expectations upheld.

The malevolence of I Hope You’re Unhappy contrasts somewhat with the up-beat Western Swing accompaniment that features some lovely pedal steel and fiddle. Guerra and McLoughlin’s contributions really come to the fore on Do You Realise That Now with its delicious Tex-Mex Huevos Rancheros flavour with extra Ags, who provides some delightful acoustic strumming.

West Oxfordshire resident Ags, sings about that perennial chap you always see at the end of the bar drinking alone, on When The Loner Gets Lonely. Guerra again providing some classic tears-in-my-beer accordion accompaniment to Ags singing ‘he goes to this pub and drinks three or four beers’. Is Ags writing from first-hand experience? At least he got to hang out with his band while recording at Slate Room Studios near Edinburgh, with Dean Owens producing. Owens has been called ‘Scotland’s most engaging and haunting songwriter’ by Irvine Welsh, (after Norrie McCulloch, of course). So Ags was in excellent company.

Loudon Wainwright III’s fans will be pleased with Ags’ rendition of  I Suppose which features some soothing pedal-steel from Stuart Nisbet, who also plays lap steel guitar and dobro throughout.

The title track Nothin’ Unexpected has a touch of the Carmen Miranda’s with the chorus phrasing of ‘Ay ay ay ay’; Ags reflects that ‘nothin’ stays the way you expect it’, because some of his favourite boozers have closed down. No surprises with that statement unfortunately, because as the Buddhist’s say: all conditioned things are subject to impermanence. Which means that the pubs that Ags sings about on ‘Haunts Like This’ are closing down at a rate of 29 a week, according to the Associated Licensed Multiple Retailers, don’t you know? It is hard to ags-cept such changes. That really is a cause for tears in one’s over-priced, watered-down, draught beer.

Best stick to a supermarket carry-out. Dry your eyes, stick Ags on and pour yourself another one.

Author: Muff Fitzgerald

Muff Fitzgerald has worked as a roadie, publicist, broadcaster and journalist. Music makes his world go round and round and round. Somebody make it stop, please!

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