Dashing and gallus, Awkward Family Portraits are on top form here with their exotic blend of old time swing, country, blues and all points in between.
Glasgow’s favourite purveyors of old time music, vaudeville and Western swing, Awkward Family Portraits, return to the fray with an album which, as with its predecessor, finds them totally in command of their chosen niche. Moreover, their sound here is more assured, more exotic and more, well, lush. To their already heady mix of influences, they add Hawaiian Alohas and Slim Gaillard like Vout-o-Reenee along with a whiff of Hank Williams’ like misery. It’s all great fun.
They open with the well-mannered cowboy croonings of ‘Snakes & Ladders’ as if Gene Autry was back in the saddle but with a wicked band behind him, before launching into their familiar fiddle led swing sound on ‘Can You Set This Demon Free’. It’s a measure of how well the band have progressed as they artfully twist and turn here. Midway through, the song breaks free with pummelling percussion recalling Cotton Club days before collapsing into a mini maelstrom of sound. It’s a wickedly delicious song with brilliant lyrics and a neat twist at the end. Their Western swing influence continues on ‘These Four Walls’ and ‘All Out Of Luck’ while ‘Don’t Know Where It Goes’ slows down the beat somewhat on a (ahem) downbeat number which recalls both Hank Williams and the band’s Glasgow peer, Daniel Meade.
They are at their most adventurous on a couple of numbers. ‘Sugar, Honey, Coca-Cola’ is saturated with a south Pacific warm breeze, the arrangement worthy of Van Dyke Park. ‘Ojos Rojos’ on the other hand is bold and brash. A vigorous tango, it stomps quite brilliantly with all the vainglory of an Argentinean switch-blade warrior as the band variously traverse through Slim Gaillard hipness, Calexico like border sounds and Tom Waits’ junkyard blues. Less visceral, but still hovering around the north/south American border, ‘La La Bodega’ is like a honey suckled Mexican version of ‘The Big Rock Candy Mountain’ although, in reality, it’s a fond farewell to one of their favourite Glasgow venues.
Toss in the the lachrymose ‘The Boy That Never Cried’ and the murder ballad, ‘Little Diamond (Dead, Cold Still)’ – given a wonderful Morricone like cinematic delivery – and you have an album which is quite delicious.
Awkward Family Portraits may be niche but they are fun and keep more arcane genres in the public consciousness. It is nice to see they continue to develop and keep old music fresh.