Impressive Dutch band change tack with their sophomore album and very competently fit the Americana brief.
Two years ago, this Dutch band from Groningen released an album called ‘In Gold We Trust‘, a fun-filled, beautifully played, jazz-based exploration of prohibition-era Chicago sounds and jazz swing. It was reviewed well by critics and warmly on AUK despite an early debate as to whether this could in any sense be regarded as meeting the criteria for review as an Americana album.
Two years on and the core of the band remains the same (Gijs de Groot, lead singer, and Johan Stolk, guitarist and songwriter) and is augmented by some really excellent session men on piano, steel guitar and strings, but the music on ‘Empty Pockets‘ has morphed into a selection of much more roots-based tunes with the brass contributing to a bluesy vibe and the guitars (electric and steel) underpinning several country-focused tracks, and even a retro folk song. In the period between the two albums the band played extensively in the street, and in a travelling pop festival showcasing the first album during lockdown and introducing fans to a broader palette of songs.
The augmented band is producer Bernard Gepken (acoustic guitar and backing vocals), Mischa Porte (drums), and Rayer Zwart (bass) and other excellent session players include Joas Zuur on trumpet, David Gram on steel guitar, Ferry Langendijk on keyboards, even a beautiful string quartet on the delightful ballad ‘Verse of the Dawn‘.
The album kicks off with a Springsteenesque ‘Huddle by the Fire’, with its brass backing, and the pace picks up with ‘Don’t let me be’, with a tinkling piano solo leading into a short brass break. Lead singer de Groot has said he wanted the album to have the live feel of Springsteen’s ‘The Seeger Sessions‘ and to an extent he has succeeded. The vocals on these opening tracks are a little strident, but de Groot really gets into his bluesy groove with ‘Don’t know where I’m bound‘, again with great brass behind a rolling banjo. ‘Stack ‘em up‘ is a stomping barroom ditty about a dodgy card game, with a wonderful steel guitar break, and a nice refrain “Ohhh, another man down, three* to go To the bitter end Ohhh, one more round of alcohol Stack ’em up and deal”. This is reminiscent of early Johnny Cash and the closest to pure country on the album.
The varied pace throughout the album is impressive, with the gentle sway of the love song, ‘Love on Wheels‘, the slow murder ballad ‘Forever a Prisoner’ (in the English folk tradition), a duet with one of Holland’s leading female folk singers, Christine Oele, and ‘Hangman’ (a nice acoustic ballad) all counterbalancing the harder rockier tracks.
Of these faster numbers, ‘Shadows in the Night‘ is a highlight, with its blistering acoustic guitar break and trumpet outro. The album closes with a nice cowboy song ‘Hang on Rosie’ sung over a lovely Floyd Cramer piano and crying steel guitar in the background.
Based very much in the Netherlands it will be difficult for Them Dirty Dimes to gain traction outside their home market, but they deserve to. The musicians on the album are extremely talented and they can, and have, with Stolk the songwriter, clearly captured the spirit of Americana. This sophomore album demonstrates their ability to effectively play any style of music and this now makes two fine albums in their body of work.