Pawn Shop Saints “45 American Lies”

Dolly Rocker Records 2023

Pawn Shop Saints release is like a 30-day Amtrak pass, a great American tour.

The new release from New England’s Pawn Shop Saints, a digital-only collection called ‘45 American Lies’ is an ambitious venture. The Saints aren’t a household name, though they’ve been around since 2012 and have released several critically received albums.  As Jeb Barry, the group’s writer, lead singer and driving force noted, “Yeah, we know, we don’t have the musical prestige to expect anyone to listen to all of these songs…”

So why sit down and work your way through ‘45 American Lies’? Because it’s worth it. This may be one of the best auditory tours of contemporary America you could find.  Recorded quickly, the results are visceral and vivid. As Barry explains, “No autotune (obviously) and any mistakes were usually left in place. So you get to see the scars and all. And yes, if it sounds distorted or rough that was intentionally done…”  Those sounds take listeners on the great American tour. Songs move from Wisconsin to California, from Iowa to Texas, covering the geography of loss and love, along with the topography of history, culture and folklore.

‘Carnival Rides’  is a paean to life in flyover towns, the ones you don’t see from the interstate. ‘Good Company Man’ memorializes the loss of jobs that cripple so many of those towns: Swing shifts till that Monday morn, they padlocked the mill/End of the week the unemployment’s gone, for that shithole job I’d kill”. ‘Repo Man’ is another chapter in the same story.

‘Barely Getting By’ celebrates the joy of being alive: “we’re ok, barely getting by/The kids are fighting sleep again, and the dog’s found a skunk/She just took the last cold beer but, I don’t mind that much. We just laugh when times get too bad, when they’re good, so good we cry.” Most couples can identify with these vignettes, other than the dog and skunk. That you have to experience; the smell is unimaginable.

Barry weaves together the past with the present.  ‘Heading To Parchman’  reminds us that the notorious Mississippi prison, made famous in Bubba White’s song, still exists.  ‘Shake The World’ shows the lure of the past to find oneself: ‘She dances stoned to that, generic jam band/Who only knows covers by the Dead/Hey Girl, shake the world, til the walls, fall /And dance on the bastards’ graves /Gen X hippie girl thinks it’s ’79.” ‘Cottonwood’ tells a tale from the 1930’s, yet hits the right note for anytime: “Sometime the things you give up, just to go on, ain’t worth what you lose.”

There are songs of lost loves (‘Whisky/Weed’), lost opportunities (‘Alabama Truck Stop 1991’) and lost lives. In ‘Toasting Taylor’, friends toast the first one to go, washing down the first taste of mortality with a chaser of loss:  “Laughing one minute, crying the next/Passing around your photograph/All of us, are pretending to be tough, Drinking, one last drink, to you/So come on everybody raise a glass.”

The music is as a varied as the topics addressed by the songs, with the Saints matching style to story – folk, rock, country or pop – and Barry’s voice keeping it all together. There is something for everybody, even a nod to the UK. In ‘Liverpool Girl’, the singer askes his girl: “Who were you talking to?/ Was it the guy that you met one summer drunk in Liverpool?/ The one you always said you thought talked so… cool/ I don’t want to know, I don’t care, ok I do/ I’ll bet my life it’s that motherfucker from Liverpool”. It’s done with echoes of the Mersey beat [which we always approve of around these parts – Ed]

This is tour-de-force d’Americana, so set aside a cold, windy day to sit by the fire with a drink. Perhaps as in “Toasting Taylor; “mezcal all the way from California… some Jack (bought) with a stolen credit card… a trunk full of Corona”. Or, if you’re more abstemious, take a Moxie or a Polar Cream soda from the land of the Saints. Whatever your tipple, it’s the music that’s the real refreshment. And unlike the Amtrak pass, you get to name your price.

9/10
9/10

About Michael Macy 49 Articles
Grew up in the American Midwest and bounced around a bit until settling in London. Wherever I've been, whatever I have done, has been to sound of Americana. It is a real privilege to be part of this site, discover new music and write about it.
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Jeb Barry

Hi Michael…thanks so much for the awesome review…yeah we may never be a household name or popular enough to seriously tour in Europe, but we have fun. LOL
Thanks again for the great review and kind words, and thanks for listening