Friday, 19 May 2017

My Darling Clementine - Still Testifying : Proper Records

If the term ‘project’ was ever warranted, now is the time to erase it. Three albums; a literary collaboration and countless shows are a testimony to the strength of My Darling Clementine as one of the UK’s leading country music exponents. Whether in full band mode or just a simple Lou and Michael duet, songs have flowed effortlessly. There is no easing off on the quality as STILL TESTIFYING is unleashed on a scene where real country music faces a battle to resist the watering down trend.

While the theme has remained similar across the three albums, the new record sees a switch in sound with a move in a country soul direction. This is predominately a light approach rather than a full on dive into heavy soul, but the result is a winning formula that keeps the album fresh and resilient to a multitude of repeat listens. These plays have long outstripped any review purpose and the polished finesse of this record will ensure plenty more listens are yielded before any embers will die.

On such a topic, ‘The Embers and the Flames’ is the title of the opening track and immediately the updated sound hits the traps aided by a band, with brass et al, in fine form. Once again the trials and tribulations of relationship troubles are core to the lyrical content, give or take an odd stroll into personal and social commentary territory. In fact two of the album’s leading contender tracks are along these lines. ‘Eugene’ was first introduced at a My Darling Clementine gig last year with Lou pouring every sinew of emotion into an account of the experience of a dark moment while on tour in the US. The emotive element has transferred well to the recording and this track has rightly been singled out for pre-release promotion.

However this song is just eclipsed for me as the premier moment by the majestic social weepie ‘Two Lane Texaco’. While obviously taking its inspiration from a stateside development, there is connotation of this happening anywhere in the western world. Ironically in the process of piecing together this review thoughts turned to how the small West Midlands town of Cradley Heath has fared since the imposition of a major supermarket and the construction of a bypass with a myriad of economic effects. Aside from the association, this is a damn good country song setting out its stall and executed with classic My Darling Clementine precision.

Overall the narrative of this album is of a merited quality with a prime example being the clever interpretation to the ending of a country classic in ‘Jolene’s Story’. In the true tradition of film and book reviews, check it out for yourself while taking in the whole album. On a literary theme, ‘Friday Night, Tulip’ Hotel ‘ has found a home on a My Darling Clementine album after being one of the featured songs on The Other Half project which was curated in collaboration with crime fiction writer Mark Billingham. This is another piece of blended art that you must catch up with if it hasn’t crossed your path yet.

Lou and Michael at Cambridge Folk Festival in 2014
Michael and Lou are at their best when playing the gender game. Part parody-part tribute maybe but this is a seriously good display of the duet role. ‘Just a Woman’, awash with a soul lite and soft brass background, emerges as another ‘A’ rated track in this vein. The fusion of vocal parts plays a major role in the appeal of this record and any reference you may read to some of the country music iconic duets is not far off the mark.

Another positive trait of this album is its ability to vary the mood and sound effectively. ‘Shallow’ fits the bill as a fairly low key closer, but perhaps at this stage in a relationship struggle things are calming down. Earlier in the album, hints of weeping pedal steel adorn ‘Since I Fell for You’, although the tempo does pick up with the lengthy titled ‘There’s Nothing You Can Tell Me (That I Don’t Already Know)’. Of the two remaining tracks, ‘Tear Stained Smile’ is another which has transitioned well from stage to studio after instantly enjoying the live version in Birmingham last October. Lastly, ‘Yours is the Cross That I Still Bear’ is more relationship anguish and quite simply what we expect and love from a My Darling Clementine record.

Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish make music that they care about and have created something special that should be preserved. Albeit on an independent scale, their polished music gleams with a shine of sincerity. It’s a little glimpse into a showbiz world with a touch of glamour. Quirky and reflective, My Darling Clementine makes spot on country music. STILL TESTIFYING is a wonderfully classy effort communicating its themes impressively through the timeless medium of song.