Folk-country infused americana from Northwest England but you wouldn’t know it
Mark Radcliffe has something of a reputation in and around roots music as a broadcaster of note and sometime musician. ‘Deadbeat Lullabies’ is the Fine Lines’ third album, and the Fine Lines just happen to include Mark Radcliffe on drums. However, this is not a Mark Radcliffe vanity project, but a real band founded by vocalist and guitarist David Boardman in 2016, with Zoe Blythe on vocals, Gary O’Brien on piano and Hammond organ, Emily Doggart on fiddle, Chris Lee on pedal steel, and finally Jim Broughton on bass. The band have built an enviable live reputation, particularly in the Northwest where they are based, and they are not afraid to wear their influences on their sleeves, and what influences, with fans and commentators mentioning Dylan and The Band, Gram Parsons, Mercury era Rod Stewart, Jason Isbell and Bruce Springsteen. However, while Fine Lines are proud of their influences, they are far from a simple covers band, rather their songs, comprising Boardman’s melodies and Radcliffe’s lyrics, stand on their own, particularly when sung by the shared lead vocals of Boardman and Blythe.
Everything is in place on the opening track ‘King of the Three Streets’ with jangling guitars, mandolin and pedal steel bringing a folk-country mix, and Radcliffe’s lyrics that are an exploration of the power of dreams despite the limits imposed by reality. We stay in folk-country territory with Zoe Blythe taking lead vocals on a song that refers not to Texas but Lanzarote and has the emotional feel of gospel. The tempo drops for ‘First Light’ which starts with strummed guitars, keening pedal steel and the swish of cymbals on a song that is about reflection. We are in modern country rock territory with ‘The Island’ with the addition of a soaring chorus and fiddle. We may be still listening to country rock, but we move to Queens, New York, for the relationship tale ‘Far Rockaway’. The waltz has a special place in country music, and it makes an appearance on the fiddle and pedal steel flavoured ‘The Old Haunts’ which may change the tempo but ups the emotional feel. Blythe is featured with fiddle on the more folkie and livelier ‘Long Way to Fall’. We are in acoustic guitar territory with Blythe back on harmony vocals for ‘Out on the Shore’. The twang is back for mid-tempo country rocker ‘The Lie of the Land’ with a brighter tone to the lyrics. Blythe is back on lead vocals for ‘I Never Asked For Much’ which features pedal steel heavily, and if you imagined Gram and Emmylou while listening, so be it. The album closes in a honky-tonk with ‘New Year’s Eve’, maintaining another well-worn country tradition.
There we have it, ‘Deadbeat Lullabies’ is a well performed and well written album of folk-country influenced americana with plenty of variety in the tunes. Fine Lines may wear their influences on their collective sleeves, but not every album can be genre-defining and the performances here are very enjoyable, and therefore the lack of ground-breaking originality is not a problem. While Mark Radcliffe won’t be expecting the Nobel Prize for Literature his lyrics are interesting and well crafted, adding to the overall enjoyment of ‘Deadbeat Lullabies’. The album is a worthy addition to the expanding Fine Lines catalogue and makes you wonder what these songs will sound like played live. Fine Lines may be based in the Northwest of England, but there isn’t a hint of this in their mix of folk, country and americana, which is probably one of the best compliments you can pay them, and if you get a chance to see them live, take it.
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