Classic country sounds with 21st Century lyrics from America’s Rust Belt
Janet Batch is not quite what she seems. Her music is infused with the spirits of classic female country artists such as Patsy Cline and Tammy Wynette and country music from the ‘50s to the ‘80s, and her songs echo the blue-collar hard times and human relationships typically found in Kentucky and Tennessee, but she is a native of upstate New York and is a landscape gardener during the day. Her songs and lyrics are based on her own experiences of growing up on a dairy farm in America’s Rust Belt. She has also acknowledged the influence of ‘70s Fleetwood Mac, particularly the vocals of Stevie Nicks. While Janet Batch may not come from the traditional heartlands of country music, her voice is the real thing, and her songwriting strives for more than a country-pop sheen. ‘You Be The Wolf’ is Janet Batch’s second album and she is joined by a team of musicians including Sid Green on guitar, Mike Brando on bass and Chris Ploss drums who transport her music back to the ‘70s and early ‘80s.
The album opens with a mid-tempo country waltz, ‘If I Had A Nickel’, that takes the listener back to the honky-tonk, but if you listen to the lyrics it is about the sexist attitudes of men rather than ‘50s honky-tonk angels of country legends Hank Thompson and Kitty Wells. ‘Waiting On Horses’ has a ‘50s rockabilly feel but again the lyrics have a modern spin, explaining that women can do well in the macho world of horse-trading. Loving a musician can be a challenge and this is explored on ‘Radio’ that takes us back to the ‘60s soundtracks of Ennio Morricone. ‘It’s So Easy’ is just that, a simple love song. Next Janet Batch remembers a neighbour from her childhood on the family’s dairy farm who nearly committed suicide before coming back from the brink on ‘Lovetta’ which moves to a country shuffle and is a more lively tune than may have been expected, reflecting the ultimate inner strength of the neighbour. Batch’s vocals really shine on ‘Got No Idea’ with its echoes of Johnny Cash and his Tennessee Three. We are back to the honky-tonk with the drinking themed waltz ‘Bridgewater’ maintaining the classic country theme. A mournful fiddle colours the tale of a mother and daughter relationship, ‘Too Much For Me,’ that picks up on the blues element in country music. The age-old song technique of contrasting the lives of two childhood friends is explored on ‘Side By Side’ with pedal steel guitar and organ adding to the atmosphere. ‘You Be The Wolf’ ends with ‘Sara Anne’ which is inspired by a twelve-year-old girl, Sara Anne Wood, who disappeared in 1993 and was never found. This is again a meditation on friendship.
Janet Batch’s ‘You Be The Wolf’ is an enjoyable well played album that is not afraid to honour the country music of the ‘50s through the early ‘80s. While the music may be looking back to times gone by, the lyrics are definitely of the 21st Century and it is clear that Janet Batch has spent time honing her songs and finding musicians who are sympathetic to her music. Whatever the merits of the songs and the backing musicians, the standout feature of ‘You Be The Wolf’ is Batch’s vocals which are a thing of rough beauty, perfect for singing about blue collar issues and human relationship.
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