You don’t need me to tell you that it’s been a funny old year…still, I just have. I’m reminded of it daily, as we all are, but at this point in the year I’m doing my best to count blessings, to find highlights, to think of the good things that have happened in spite of the madness, or directly because of it. And though there were far too many ZOOMed-in bedsit gigs for my liking it was opt-in and very easy to opt-out. As soon as I saw Elton John gargling marbles and spitting out a whole new language as he sat to sing what’s left of a song that used to be I’m Still Standing I was done. No more streamed-from-home gigs for me. Musicians reminding us daily that they could no longer work. While we sat at home unable to, um, work…
So I’ve been going back through the albums I missed – or the albums I forgot to write about or the ones I thought I didn’t need to dig deep into. A far better use of my time with far better outcomes.
Take Tami Neilson’s 2020 offering. I heard it just before it was released. I liked it. She’s good. She hasn’t put a foot wrong across the last decade. But I didn’t think it was great, I thought it was slight. I mean, it’s intentionally short – 26 minutes, but it’s an album not an EP. I usually love his sort of thing by the way. But on first, second and third listens I convinced myself this album was good and not great. There were no songs for me to love and though the production (Delaney Davidson and Tami) and the playing (again Delaney, Tami, also Tami’s brother and songwriting partner Jay Neilson, and stalwart drummer Joe McCallum) was perfect – as good as it’s been on the last four albums – I just thought this was more of the same without any of he hugely affecting balladry, without any of the real soulful grit.
Well, time allows you back in. And I’ve started listening to this album a lot just recently. It’s a happy collision of the need to knock something out quickly and the mega talents of all involved. It’s a brisk fun-ride through some modern rockabilly stompers. It’s deceptively simple in fact.
And if I felt there was nothing to quite hang on to as we hurtle through the three openers, the infectious groove of Queenie Queenie won me over; Tami’s vocal – and lyric – is fun too. But that soulful balladry is there on You Were Mine – also a great guest lead guitar spot from the safest of safe hands, Brett Adams. Here is where the album hits launch for me. And I say that not to knock the brisk hurtle through the openers, they’re all catchy and quick and fun I’ve started to really hook into Hey! Bus Driver! for the way it legitimately feels like a throwback to another time and Ten Tonne Truck is fantastic. But it’s later in this album that I stared to hear the things I think I really wanted to hear. They were there all along of course, but I needed time (thankfully 2020 has provided almost too much of that). The vocal that drives 16 Miles of Chain – against a classic Delaney Davidson guitar hook – is the sort we’ve basically come to expect from Neilson. But by god she delivers.
The duetting on Tell Me That You Love Me reminds me of Jack White’s work with Loretta Lynn on Van Lear Rose – a favourite album of mine, and I’m sure it’s a favourite of all involved on this project too.
Any Fool With A Heart is another throwback to simpler times, it’s Everly Brothers-esque, it’s Bacharach-ian, Byrds-ian, Beatle-esque even. It’s country as a chicken coop, of course, but there’s just classic, simple pop songwriting as the wire-netting beneath it.
And Mavis Staples gets a tribute – and the gospel edges of the table get a polish – with the singalong/clap-along Sister Mavis; a scrap of a song built for the purpose of performance. It didn’t get much of a chance – yet – for that in the year of its birth. But its waiting, patiently.
All this in just 26 minutes and a gorgeous, dreamy lullaby called Sleep. This is the album a road-dog mama pumps out in her spare time. It’s different, shorter, sharper, less dramatic than recent offerings. But it was designed as a fun wee stopgap. And then 2020 gave us entirely far too much time to dwell on things and put a hold on these tunes finding their true calling – the stage.
Funnily enough that’s given me time to spent longer with this short record. And that’s what I needed. It is its own thing. It doesn’t need to compete with the previous gems. It’s got a feel and a sound and a flavour that’s worthy. And as 2020 creeps toward its eventual end these songs will find their moment on the stage to fully shine.
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