A fine album of outlaw country from a complex character and his diverse band of musicians and backing singers.
‘The Midnight Desert Talk Radio’ (great title by the way) is the second album from Andrew Browning & The 9 Pound Hammer (the band is named after a Merle Travis song). Originally a honky-tonk covers band, Browning has written the eight tracks – possibly a symbolic number as he mentions ‘8 track radio’ on one of the songs. In fact, there are a few mentions of the radio throughout the album (including of course the title track) and as Browning says “The title of this album references the late nights I spent listening to Art Bell (host of the paranormal themed radio show Coast To Coast AM) as a kid during a misspent youth”.
Recorded at DOB Sound Studios in Santa Fe Springs, CA, the songs have a gritty and often dark tone to them. There are lyrics referencing a murdering debt collector, aggressive love, cigarettes (more than once), drink and of course, the radio. Browning has an unusual turn of phrase and lives up to the outlaw country image that he projects throughout the album.
Vocally, Browning’s voice seems to have been influenced by Warren Zevon and the opening track ‘Family Man’ has strong echoes of Zevon’s ‘Lawyers Guns And Money’. He’s ably backed by some excellent musicians who seem to have real chemistry between them possibly as the result of playing live together. There’s Lelah Simon (bass), Phillip Allan Smith (lead guitar), Ilya Portnov (harmonica), Carey Frank (keyboards), Mollie Greenspan (backing vocals) and Derek O’Brien (drums – who also produced and engineered the album). Muscovite Portnov is on a number of tracks and his virtuoso harmonica gives the album an interest dynamic. Greenspan doesn’t feature that much but her soulful vocals on ‘The Godless And Sugar Free’ underscored by Frank on Hammond B3 make this track one of the standouts on the album.
Browning is an interesting character who gave up music for twenty years to change careers and bring up a family but he’s back now with a bang. As he says ‘These songs bring to life a patchwork quilt of characters who are part of me and part of who I envision others, like me, to be. These songs are about the families we make as we move through life, the complex dualities we experience, and the deep, imperfect love and lessons that come from those life-changing relationships’.
Whilst the album is well worth a listen, these songs and the band would probably sound even better whilst leaning on the bar chugging a beer or two in a honky tonk somewhere just off the highway and absorbing the excellent music of Andrew Browning & The 9 Pound Hammer.