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Old friends and collaborators, Steve Black and Alan West are two English country musicians with strong American connections; heading to Nashville together, they have made two albums that are enriched by the skills of a bunch of Nashville players, with the wonderful Thomm Jutz at the centre of things.
Steve Black is above all a songwriter, and his album gathers "all the best" of his songs and places them in the beautiful settings provided by these Nashville guys. I would say his style is heavily influenced by what you might call blue collar country music - the world as seen from the viewpoint of the regular Joe. Though his songs frequently have an obviously American setting, he somehow manages to retain his own accent, which is a good thing. He has a whisky roughened voice with a nice warmth to it, strong enough and confident enough to carry the mini-epicChildren of the Rodeo, which has a hauntingly melancholic arragement of interwoven guitar lines. The songs are strong, exhibiting the kind of craftsmanship that country music encourages - a story, a melody and not a thing out of place. The approach might vary: there's a harder edged modern country rock sound toMiss You So(could be Drive-by Truckers) whilst the jaunty story songCome on Home , featuring some fine country fiddle from Justin Moses, could have been recorded at almost any time in the last thirty years or so. The English accent sometimes gives more of a folk feel to a song but mostly what stands out about this album is the satisfying sense of a bunch of talented guys coming together to make something that adds up to more than the sum of its parts.
Alan West's disc from the same sessions amounts to just six tracks: three more Steve Black songs (including a co-write with Jim Almand), one from Texan Hugh Moffat and two from Jefferson Ross (including a co-write with Alison Mellon). Alan is rightly celebrated as one of the treasures of the UK country music scene. He has a wonderful voice, so rich and resonant, and possibly a little more Dick Gaughan than Townes van Zandt. These songs understandably cover similar territory to Steve Black's album, and are similarly embellished by the apparently effortless skill of Nashville's finest. The standout song for me is The Prophet Elijah (the Ross/Mellon composition), delivered with suitably stately seriousness by Alan, sounding pretty much like a prophet himself. He's so good at shaping his voice to suit the song, and six songs should be plenty enough to convince you that he's a man you'd like to hear for a whole evening.
All The Best and The Way It Is are just two more examples of what fine British Americana there is out there these days.
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