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Once upon a time, there was an Americana band from Perth (Scotland) called Southpaw. As far as I’m aware they only had one album, but it was a real goodie:  Buffalo Mansions is still a favourite in this house eight years later, packed full of great tunes and country rock melancholy. Gavin JD Munro wrote all the songs on that album and he has formed a new band with a new release of their own (see the next post on this page). The rest of Southpaw (Donny McElligott, Owen Nicholson, Callum Keith and Maurice McPherson) recruited a new guitarist/vocalist in the shape of Ian Hutchison and they have just re-emerged as The New Madrids; their new album is just great, every bit as good as Buffalo Mansions was.

Songwriting duties for Through the Heart of Town are shared between new man Hutchison and Donny McElligott (guitars, mandolin, vocals and percussion). He may not have written any songs on that Southpaw album but there’s more than one of Donnie’s songs here that sound like outtakes from said album. In particular, the opening track, Wrapped Up, seems to pick up exactly where Southpaw left off. The country rock beat from Maurice McPherson drives the thing along, the pedal steel sings beautifully, the guitars weave in and out of each other, and the happy/sad dichotomy of the love lyric introduces that yearning note that I love so much. Bliss from the opening notes as far as I’m concerned. And then: track two takes us in the new direction. You is written (and sung, I think) by Ian Hutchison and this is altogether spikier material – harder rocking with some great funky bass playing from Callum Keith and electric guitars that duel with each other. The country band tunefulness is still there but this is rock music that struts like they’re all still in their twenties, and it sounds great. In so many ways – the lyrics, the vocal, the bass, those guitars – it hints at a deep love for mid-70s British rock. All those bands that sprung from Deep Purple and from Free seem to have added something to the mix – with a dose of The Faces for good measure. Intentionally or not, they’ve borrowed some great vibes and made it sound as fresh and invigorated as could be.

Later on, the two sides of this band are meshed ever more beautifully. Owen Nicholson is a really good pedal steel player and to hear him embellishing Ian Hutchison’s contributions is to hear country music being married to blues-based rock and to wonder whether anyone has ever made that marriage work so well. Ok, that’s a stretch, I can think of some great examples, but The New Madrids do pull off something a bit special here. It’s also great to hear Donny McElligott give rein to his inner rocker. One of his songs, Big Fun, is kind of like Summer of ’69 with more dirt on its knees - and at least as capable of inducing a mass singalong.

Even more interesting is the McElligott composition, Long is the Way. This song sounds like it sprung from a particularly inspired jam session because everything about the music seems so unlikely. A slow, spiralling tune seems to pulse insistently whilst fiddle and mandolin come and go with a controlled intensity matched by the impassioned rock vocal. There’s barely any sweetness here, rather a well-imagined emotional heat that seems on the verge of tipping into madness – and it’s compelling stuff.

Oh, and then there’s the beautiful (and sad!) Alaska, building up quietly from vocal and acoustic guitar. Guest singer Brennen Leigh contributes the second vocal on something that’s first cousin to the country duets of old, but distinctly Made in Scotland.  Really, there’s so much going on here that you feel quite excited to hear a new direction being forged by some old hands; to hear them heading in that new direction with such self-assurance and fearlessness offers hope that these guys have more to bring us than just one album. Whatever, here’s looking forward to seeing them on the road this summer.


John Davy


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September 2018

The Devil Makes Three
70 pts.
Chains Are Broken
New West
Jimmy LaFave
65 pts.
Peace Town
Music Road Records
Malcolm Holcombe
48 pts.
Come Hell Or High Water
Gypsy Eyes Music
Cody Canada & the Departed
47 pts.
Blue Rose Records
Jeffrey Foucault
43 pts.
Blood Brothers
Blueblade Records
The War And Treaty
42 pts.
Healing Tide
Thirty Tigers
Martha Fields
40 pts.
Dancing Shadows
The Weight Band
35 pts.
World Gone Mad
Must Have Music
David Olney
32 pts.
This Side Or The Other
Black Hen Music
The Black Sorrows
32 pts.
Citizen John
Blue Rose Records
Robbie Fulks and Linda Gail Lewis
31 pts.
Wild Wild Wild
Bloodshot Records
Hadley McCall Thackston
28 pts.
Hadley McCall Thackston
Wolfe Island Records
Nathan Bell
28 pts.
Er Gwaetha Pawb a Phopeth
Angry Stick
Curse Of Lono
26 pts.
As I Fell
Submarine Cat Records
Ryan Martin
25 pts.
Gimme Some Light
High Moon
Stephen Simmons
25 pts.
Locke Creek Records
Jason McNiff
23 pts.
Joy And Independence
At The Helm Records
Jim Lauderdale
23 pts.
Time Flies
Yep Roc
Kevin Gordon
23 pts.
Tilt and Shine
Crowville Media
Eliza Gilkyson
21 pts.
Red House Records
Boz Scaggs
20 pts.
Out Of the Blues
Concord Records
20 pts.
Among The Ghosts
Thirty Tigers
Melissa Carper & Rebecca Patek
20 pts.
Brand New Old-Time Songs
The Jayhawks
17 pts.
Back Roads and Abandoned Motels
Lori McKenna
16 pts.
Cn Records

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