This week’s Essentials considers some homegrown americana talent. My Darling Clementine, who are husband and wife Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish, are from Southport and Birmingham respectively. They started recording together after 10 years of marriage; before this Michael was leader of the alt-country group The Good Sons and had a solo career which is still ongoing. Lou is a classically trained pianist who has worked in the past with artists such as Brian Ferry and has released four solo albums.
MDC are a slightly strange choice for Essentials as they have only made three self-penned albums together, but excellent albums they are, so what the heck. It has been difficult to discard some brilliant songs to choose a top ten out of the songs they have written. The three albums in order of release are ‘How Do You Plead?’, ‘The Reconciliation?’ and finally ‘Still Testifying’. They have also recorded an album of Elvis Costello covers called ‘Country Darkness’ which is really worth checking out.
The music is traditional country and country-soul, with clear influences from many country legends such as George Jones and Tammy Wynette. As with George and Tammy, Michael and Lou both take singing parts in each song. Their lyrics, like much country music, sometimes deal with the ups but mainly the downs in relationships.
What marks out MDC is that their songs are consistently strong both musically and lyrically. Put simply, the tunes are fabulous. The lyrics flow beautifully with, for example, no awkward rhymes. They can be witty, moving and are always clear and easy to relate to. At times a story is told with engaging and interesting characters.
If you have not seen them live, do yourself a favour and go to see a MDC show. Apart from the music, the shows are full of good-humoured banter and waspish marital asides. If they don’t have a full band behind them the superb jazz guitarist Preben Raunsbjerg often performs with them, filling in the musical gaps, which is a delight.
Number 10: ‘100 000 Words’
From the first album, a tale of the love in a marriage leaving and the couple wanting to take back the promises they made to each other when they wed. Some great country twanging and fiddle here.
Number 9: ‘Goodbye Week’
A swinging song, an ode to a lover who has left, which has been a barnstorming encore at shows in the past. It brings back memories of a particularly good gig at Saltaire and some old boy who had been in the bar next door moaning about the group. You had to laugh. Here is a live version with guitar legend Martin Belmont playing with them.
Number 8: ‘The Embers and The Flame’
A heart warming song about long-term love after initial passion. “The embers are as precious as the flame”. Written in part by crime writer Mark Billingham who is a huge fan of MDC and who collaborated with them to write the show ‘The Other Half’ which was a drama based on some of their songs. It was lovely to see Mark joining them onstage for a great version of ‘Heartaches By The Number’ as an encore at The Met in Bury.
Number 7: ‘The Gospel According To George’
George Jones’ autobiography ‘I Lived To Tell It All’ is a very entertaining read. He certainly lived an eventful if not always happy life; at one stage he was so affected by alcohol that he started speaking like a duck and also took a pot-shot at a friend. Here the book has been distilled expertly into this song which concentrates on the hurt caused by George to people close to him.
Number 6: ‘Since I Fell For You’
Most of MDC’s songs deal with relationships which aren’t going well, so this song, which tells of how life can be changed so much for the better by meeting someone who you fall in love with, is a welcome change.
Number 5: ‘Ashes, Flowers and Dust’
Anyone who has lost a parent and just wishes that they could see them again, particularly at times like Christmas, will find the beautiful words in this song very moving.
Number 4: ‘No Matter What Tammy Said’
This inspiring song continues the tradition in country music and rock and roll of the answer song, which is a reply to an earlier song. An example is ‘It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels’ recorded by Kitty Wells which replies to Hank Thompson’s ‘The Wild Side of Life’, later covered by Status Quo. Here Lou is in an abusive and controlling relationship:
“I’m seeing black and blue and purple/ ‘cause he keeps seeing red”
She replies to Tammy Wynette’s ‘Stand By Your Man’ by stating that she won’t stand by her man, despite his apologies and pleas for forgiveness.
Michael’s part is of a friend who spots the abuse happening, despite the man seeming to treat her well, and who is going to sort him out. The video is very good, with an excellent vocal performance by Lou.
Number 3: ‘Going Back To Memphis’
Inspired by Tom T Hall’s ‘That’s How I Got To Memphis’, the lyrics follow the same path as Hall of someone returning to Memphis to find a lost love. However, and this may be sacrilegious, MDC’s country-soul melody is so much better.
Number 2: ‘No Heart In This Heartache’
Another great tune with country word-play in the lyrics as the singer proclaims that she really isn’t bothered about her man leaving: “There’s no heart in this heartache/ There’s no tear in this beer” and ends with the damning “there’s no ache in this heartache/ There’s only good in goodbye”.
Number 1: ‘There’s Nothing You Can Tell Me (That I Don’t Already Know)’
More fantastic country-soul with lyrics which tell a wonderful story of two world-weary people who have been round the block a few times meeting in a bar. Their previous lives are etched into their bodies and actions and so they are transparent to each other. There is a tentative suggestion in the song that they might meet the week after. Hope they did.
Good list Andrew. A really nice couple who we are lucky enough to see fairly regularly in Aberdeen so l think we should make it a Top 11 and include Eugene! The Elvis Costello album is great too.