They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, perhaps the same is true for an album but West Oxfordshire’s Ags Connolly certainly lays out his stall on the cover of How About Now. Connolly is pictured, solitary, in a bar with a lonesome bottle of Lone Star beer in front of him as he stares at a woman leaving. The bar is decorated with posters of honky tonk heroes including Waylon and Willie along with Hank Snow, Johnny Paycheck and Davis Allan Coe. Unsurprisingly when you get to the music it’s a fine collection of beer and tear stained songs with a nice big dollop of twang to go with it.
Connolly describes himself as an “Ameripolitan” musician, a term coined we think by Dale Watson who felt that “country music” has been co-opted and irreversibly corrupted by Music Row in Nashville. There’s now an Ameripolitan Awards scheme which sets out its mission quite firmly here . Suffice to say that Connolly sings country music that is firmly rooted in the old tradition with no trace of big hats, AOR rock or autotune in his voice. From the start of the album he again sets out that old stall of his with the mighty proclamation, When Country Was Proud, which celebrates Johnny Paycheck’s The Little Darlin’ Years and name checks many of the outlaws pictured on the album cover. It’s a cracking song with curling pedal steel, saloon piano and big thick creamy guitars while Connolly’s voice bears comparison with the likes of Jennings.
Connolly racks up winner after winner on the songs that follow with several hard edged rockabilly and honky tonk numbers including I saw James Hand (another nod to one of his heroes) and The Dim and Distant Past where the band whip up a real humbuckin’ storm with some great piano on the outro. He’s equally at home on the sad sack laments of She Doesn’t Need Anyone Anymore and That’s The Last Time wringing out the emotion for all it’s worth. He’s ably supported throughout the album (which he recorded in Edinburgh with Dean Owens in the producer’s chair) by Kev McGuire on double bass , Jim McDermott, drums and Andy May on keyboards while Stuart Nisbet is superb on electric and pedal steel guitars. Connolly was excellent when he appeared recently at Perth’s Southern fried Festival and he returns to Scotland for a shows in Edinburgh and Aberdeen in October.