CD / DL
The debut album from Scottish alt country bad boys The New Madrids is another end of year cracker.
The New Madrids – from Perth (the Scottish one, not the Australian one) – have crafted herein an album of rootsy, Americana soul that is a multi-layered and sweeping record. Forming from the ashes of the much-loved Southpaw, this is their debut release and is gaining them friends and admirers from all corners of the globe.
Southpaw were a talented if somewhat fiery bunch of wildmen; bad decisions aplenty and legal machinations put paid to their soaring, harmonic country rock after just two albums and most observers thought that would be that.
Thankfully, not so. Enlisting frontman Ian Hutchison, the core of the band have reconvened and Through The Heart Of Town is the fruit of their union.
The inside cover of the album has a lovely picture of the group relaxing in what looks like a 1970s living room; dansette, garish wallpaper, corner bar and old-style tins of Tennents lager with pictures of models grinning toothily on them sets the scene. The album covers that are scattered around are telling…. The Band, Sticky Fingers, Creedance.
They never stray far from the Americana/country rock well of inspiration but damn it, they do it real well. Opener Wrapped Up has multi-instrumentalist and genuine, grade A eccentric Owen Nicholson’s pedal steel gently climbing and pulsing through the quite gorgeous melody. Hutchison’s vocals are all grainy, whiskey-soaked and longing; he’s slotted into the band like he was born to it, bringing a freshness and a pop sensibility to the writing.
You is a bluesey rocker with hints of Muscle Shoals in it’s swampy rhythm and classic Brit-rock- Bad Company, Free – with its loose- limbed, sparse guitar duelling. Drummer Mo McPherson and bassman Callum Keith are so closely knit you’d struggle to get a cigarette paper between them.
Shake sees The New Madrids introducing horns into a slower-paced soul stomp. Hutchison’s plaintive vocal is at times the colour of pain and loss, the song all Stax pride meets Lower East Side sleaze.
Hey Christine is another slower song with Nicholson’s pedal steel blending sweetly with Donny McElligot’s chunky riffing and telecaster twang. A song about alcohol-fuelled love lost, it’s surprisingly uplifting, the chorus all soaring harmony and irresistible charm. These are songs made for radio in a much fairer world.
Mountain Of Trouble is the heart and soul of the album. Opening as a downbeat country ballad it swiftly blazes into a winding, driving, rocker that Tom Petty would be proud of – its sheer joy shines brightly and Hutchison’s vocal acts as a gleefully wicked pick-me-up.
Cold Alaska is that strangest of things, a track that one immediately assumes you’ve heard before. It’s familiarity is down to the simple fact that it’s as catchy as a dose of crabs. Hutchison duets with Kirsty Fisher and they sound like the warring couple the song portrays. It starts as a song of loss but craftily turns into a murder ballad in fine style. It’s not unlike Richmond Fontaine in the story-telling style and works splendidly.
Through The Heart Of Town is an album that I’ll play over and again – trust me, that’s not something that happens much these days in my house. The New Madrids, against the odds, have pulled it off. Give them some room in your life.
All words by Joe Whyte. More writing by Joe on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive.