It was a sad day for Scots music when Perth based Southpaw called it a day a few years back. Their take on classic Americana was of the finest order with their album Buffalo Mansions one of the better UK country rock albums of recent years. So it was welcome news indeed that the nucleus of the band had regrouped under the moniker The New Madrids with a new singer/guitarist Ian Hutchison fronting the solid rhythm section of Calum Keith and Maurice McPherson while Donny McElligott and Owen Nicholson man the guitars with Hutchison and McElligott sharing lead vocal duties. With the new name comes a tougher sound and while at heart they remain a country rock band there’s a sinewy swagger to some of the songs here recalling the peacock strut of the Stones in the early seventies with hints of Free and Little Feat. Indeed on one song, Shake, they import horns and deliver a classic blue eyed soul song that drips with passion as it builds to its climax. McElligott rivals Frankie Miller in the vocal department, the guitar solo is an exemplar of understated Southern cool and the pedal steel swathes all in honeyed regret as the towering horns (by Bruce Michie) burst with a Stax like majesty. Very impressive.
The album opens with the free flowing country ripple of Wrapped Up which has Nicholson’s pedal steel curling throughout like a whippoorwill reminding one of the likes of Buddy Cage or even Jerry Garcia’s fluid work with the New Riders. You strides into syncopated blues rock territory with the band tight as hell, corkscrew guitars snarling across the beat in best Little Feat fashion although Hutchison’s vocals are just a wee bit too frenzied. Hey Christine is a fine twang fuelled ballad with lashings of pedal steel while Shine A Light revisits soul territory with Michie’s horns again employed to great effect as the band channel a Muscle Shoals country soul feel that recalls the likes of Donnie Fritts, sublime.
Big Fun does what it says on the tin. A loose limbed rocker calling out for more cowbell it swings with a youthful swagger as McElligott’s vocals capture the hoarse urgency of early Eagles songs, the harmonies swell on the chorus and the guitars become more turbo charged as the song progresses. Long Is The Way also recalls the seventies highpoints of country rock although here it’s the acoustic variety as guitars are strummed and the vocal harmonies shine. The addition of fiddle (Hannah Fisher) adds to the impression of Laurel Canyon hippies sitting around a campfire waiting for Asylum Records to sign them and again the New Madrids carry this off with aplomb on what currently is the highlight here. Mountain Of Trouble starts off promisingly but veers off into later Eagles boogiedom. Exhausted perhaps they turn in Alaska which is a beautifully restrained vocal duet with Brennen Leigh as the cold hearted protagonist who drives her lover to murder. Acoustic guitar and plaintive fiddle adorn this stark tale which surely will have audiences in rapt attention live.
As the band sign off with the gumbo rock of Need A Friend, another nod to the Little Feat school of slow burn shuffle with Hutchison’s voice showing that the band have two excellent soulful singers, it’s apparent that they’ve moved on from their previous incarnation, taken some vitamins and worked out. The result is a well toned and muscular crew who can burn with the best of them with McElligott and Hutchison well able to offer up songs that are inspired by the likes of the those whose LP covers adorn the album’s liner notes while stamping their own personality on the results.