From the moment RJ Chesney and his band of assorted Los Angelinos and Norwegians clatter into the rockabillied country rock of ‘Splendors Of This Earth’ it’s evident that ‘Amateur Revolution’ is not going to be the most polished album to grace the decks this month. It’s all the better for that as the loose-limbed feel here runs throughout the 12 songs gathered, the sort of feel that one associates with The Basement Tapes or Doug Sahm, just a bunch of musicians having some great fun performing some great songs.
Chesney, an LA native, met Norwegian producer HP Gunderson when Gunderson was in LA making a documentary on local musicians and they “just clicked.” Pretty soon, Chesney was sending lyrics to Gunderson who put them to music with the pair eventually reuniting in Norway where the album was mainly recorded. Gunderson plays electric and acoustic guitar and extraordinarily supple pedal steel, a sound which dominates many of the songs, while Chesney’s relaxed and earthy voice ties much of the album to his southern roots. These roots come to the fore on the paradoxically chirpy ‘Da Mayor Is On The Scene’ which relates to small town racism in the deep south and on ‘Death, An Old Widow’s Peek’ which is southern gothic in its delivery, the instruments creeping like a slow invasion of Kudzu vine as Chesney relates his dark tale.
There’s an excellent variety on show here with ‘Pull Down The Moon’ and ‘Baby You’re Not Dead’ another couple of nicely ramshackled country rock rumbles while ‘A Place Just For Me’ and ‘Never Give Up On Love’ are both somewhat gentle and tender, the latter featuring some fine organ and a faint jaw harp giving the song a fine patina. Grandstanding smack dab in the middle of the album is the magnificent country slope of ‘Proud Of You Child’ with its wonderfully warm and syrupy pedal steel and a memorable chorus. Meanwhile Chesney tries his hand at writing a modern anthem for disaffected youth on the stirring title song (pointing out that the original sense of the word amateur was the French for to love) while he closes the album with another unashamedly retro set of ideals as ‘Rise Up And Sing’ harks back to the like of Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie. All in all an excellent album which adds more colour to the palette of current country music as it kicks against the homogenisation of Nashville pop.