Dunfermline, a Scots town in Fife has a small claim to fame in rock circles with Nazareth and Big Country springing from its loins while Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull was born there. Stevie Agnew, son of Pete Agnew, bassist for Nazareth, now stakes his own claim to fame with this excellent collection of blue collar tinged tales that , like another son of Dunfermline, Andrew Carnegie, looks to the new world for inspiration. Agnew might have grown up with a bona fide seventies rock star dad but there’s no pretension or nepotism on show here as he eschews the hard rock path and instead explores the highways and byways of American songwriters with particular nods to Springsteen and Dylan while the likes of Steve Earle, John Mellencamp, Tom Russell and Johnny Dowds all seep in.
Although Wreckin’ Yard is his debut album Agnew has knocked around a bit playing for several years on the local circuit. The catalyst for the album was his meeting with producer, drummer and co-writer of the album, Chris Smith. Together they’ve forged as good an Americana album to come out of Scotland in the past few years that burns with a respect for the working man, be it a squaddie or muck encrusted labourer and marries this with some memorable and at times very commercial sounds.
Wrecking Yard opens (and closes in an extended version) the album, a very smooth and polished medium paced rocker with sweet guitar tones that recall Mark Knopfler it’s tailor made for radio as the tale of a cuckolded labourer whose wife has left him for his boss dreams of vengeance. It’s an impressive song but more impressive is Agnew and Smith’s decision not to clone this airbrushed radio rock with the remainder of the album more dependent on acoustic instruments allowing Agnew’s very fine husk of a voice space to tell their tales. Pretend That You Love Me Tonight is Dylanesque (circa Blood on The Tracks) as Agnew seeks solace from a hooker while All That I Can See pairs Agnew with singer Kirsten Adamson (daughter of the late Stuart) on a country jaunt with Adamson sounding for all the world like a young Dolly Parton while Agnew sounds much older than his years. With banjo, Dobro, pedal steel and harmonica creating a fine backdrop it’s hard to imagine that this song originated in the Kingdom of Fife. Winter Rain is a wordy and spare backed narrative that recalls Steve Earle with Adamson again adding some sweet vocal harmonies on a grim and cold tale of a widower consoling himself with booze as he recalls his wife’s dying days, taking her to hospital and then taking her home with “her hair falling out into her hands and poison in her bones” and waiting for her to die. It’s a spectacular song that captures the protagonist’s pain without falling into sentimentality and its delivery is just as spectacular with the chorus reaching out to the listener. Agnew has another duet on Paid My Dues (Loving You) later on with Beth Malcolm replacing Adamson and again it’s a wonderful tale as two young lovers recall what went wrong.
The Pugilist is another narrative, this time about a battered and bruised fighter reduced to vagrancy. Again it’s delivered well and is reminiscent with its Celtic tinge of Ron Kavana. The one caveat here is that the melody is very reminiscent of John Lennon’s Working Class Hero. Sub Prime however struts out on its own two feet with sleek Dobro and slide guitar driving this finger pointing song against the bankers along and Agnew continues to deliver the goods for the remainder of the album in much the same vein although he does deliver a mean and dirty blues stomp on the vicious Sixteen Years which you can imagine his dad’s band might have had some fun with. Mention should be made of the stark Heavy Duty. Dedicated to a soldier friend killed in Afghanistan it avoids finger pointing but does point out that “the old wage wars for the young to die in” and is a reminder of the situation where many young men might see a career in the forces as the way out of unemployment with little thought of the possible outcome.