It’s looking to be a good year for what one might loosely term “alt country” albums with Scots acts the New Madrids and Red Pine Timber Company handing in excellent efforts so far. Time now to look to London to see what’s cooking down there and keeping their end up are The Redlands Palomino Company whose fourth album, Broken Carelessly is released this week. The Palominos are a classic UK “Americana” band with a sound that ranges from pedal steel laced country songs to jangled pop and rock while remaining true to their local roots. In addition their not so secret weapon is the wonderful voice of Hannah Elton-Wall (who’s had several mentions on Blabber’n’Smoke recently as backing or harmony singer on various albums). Here she sings like an angel and is the primary songwriter while hubby Alex adds his voice to several of the songs and produces. Recorded almost live in a Methodist Chapel in rural Gloucestershire within the space of a week there’s an immediacy and intimacy to the songs that is welcoming and reflects the recording environment which took on an air of a farewell party for drummer Dan Tilbury who emigrated to Denmark immediately the recording was over.
In these Lines opens the album with the band chuckling in the studio before launching into what is an almost perfect song. Hannah Elton-Wall’s voice is buttressed by acoustic guitar before the pedal steel and some chunky guitar chording kick in. Effortlessly she sings a bitter sweet lovelorn story with the ambiguity reflected by the honeyed pedal steel of Dave Rothon and a gritty guitar solo from guest Tom Bowen. Solitary Strangers has Alex on lead vocals on another honey slide of a song with some more grit in it as it picks up momentum. While it’s not as immediate as its predecessor it has an energy which should translate well into a live performance. On a roll by now Everything I’m Not is another up-tempo sad love song fuelled by jangling guitar and mandolin with the rhythm section gently propelling it along. These three songs epitomise the Palomino experience, loping country rock with vigorous breaks from the guitarists so it’s a surprise when the title song starts off as if they were about to dive headlong into glam rock. With a riff borrowed from The Sweet (believe it or not) Hannah sings about a Palomino horse with a free spirit while Rothon attempts to temper the propulsive beat and power chords with his pedal steel. It’s a bold effort but one that requires further perusal. No qualms about Don’t Ever Let Me Down however as it’s a country laced jaunt while She Can Live Without You , written by Rothon and with Alex on vocals heads into Teenage Fanclub territory with a fine chunky power pop feel. While Alex also offers us the woozy Floorboard George that sounds as if The Felice Brothers were recording on a cider binge the high points of the album are to be found in a brace of songs towards the end. Scattered Earth recalls Emmylou Harris’s ambient style from Wrecking Ball with mallets and subdued strumming swaddling Hannah’s voice. Swim is an impressionistic canvas with Hannah as a submariner drifting at the mercy of the current as organ swells billow and wave. The Big Freeze is another atmospheric piece, the lyrics dominated by images of snow and ice with the band tobogganing along as the pedal steel curls and weaves. Hannah sounds wonderful here, gliding above the music, soaring at times. They end the album on a valedictory note with Band Song which is like a diary entry as Hannah sings of the trials, tribulations and ultimately the reasons for being in a band.
“What a stupid thing to try and make money from, but when we’re dead and gone let’s hope these songs live on, oh why do I still try, why am I standing here tonight? It’s because the pedal steel still makes me want to cry.”
Of course the pedal steel weeps throughout as they build up to the climatic chorus which is proud and defiant ending the album ultimately on a high note.