2014 is turning out to be a fine year for new artists delivering new music that is steeped in a country tradition. After Sturgill Simpson’s magisterial retake on hard core outlaw country along comes Cale Tyson, a new signing to Clubhouse Records who grasps the sound of Hank Williams and George Jones in a warm embrace to deliver some wonderfully honky tonk soaked, tear stained ballads. The sound Tyson and his excellent band produce is mesmerising with the guitars and pedal steel given a spectral feel, as if Santo and Johnny of Sleepwalk fame had turned up at the Grand Ole Opry or Chris Isaak had joined Petunia and The Vipers. At heart however this is pure Country and the opening song, Honky Tonk Moan, is a perfect example as the Hawaiian sounding pedal steel introduces the band who clip clop into view while Tyson moans like Hank Williams. It’s an almost perfect song with Kenny Vaughan’s electric solo dripping with class as the song weeps out of the speakers, guaranteed to melt the heart of all but the stoniest listener.
One could be forgiven for expecting the remainder of this seven song disc to fall short of the standard set by Honky Tonk Moan but Tyson rises to the challenge with a set of songs that at times are better in that they are less anchored in the past. Is the Flame Burning Low is another tear stained waltz with more George than Hank. With a lighter touch on pedal steel, a more acoustic feel and some fine piano added to the mix Tyson croons wonderfully albeit with a lump in his throat. Lonesome In Tennessee is another love letter to a lost girlfriend (and by now one is wondering if Tyson will ever get to keep a gal) which adds a female chorus to his love raddled misery while the band are yet looser with drummer John McTigue adding a touch of drama with his cymbal work. By now it’s clear that Tyson is destined to be lonesome and Not Missing You adds a touch of defiance as he determines to move on from his heartbreak. Despite this, it’s still a sorrowful song with the sense of loneliness accentuated by a fine fiddle solo from Christian Sedelmayer. Again, the song is in waltz time but on this occasion one can hear the influence of another of Tyson’s heroes, Gram Parsons, in the vocal delivery and lyrics.
There’s a change of tone next as Long Gone Girl is given a darker, bluesy feel. Tyson is more judgemental here, his girlfriend drug addled and dragging him down. Sounding not a million miles away from The Doors on LA Woman the band lay down a neon rain specked vibe while Tyson’s lyrics are evocative and bang up to date.
Now my mind is racing faster than a car/Back in Texas for a night I’m playing in a bar/She calls me up ‘cos that girl is never quite too far/Saying Baby, come back home to me/I live like a sunset and all your drinks are on me/Though when I return she’s too coked out to see
This is brilliant story telling that raises the hair on the back of your neck recalling Jim White’s more spectral moments but following this we’re back in traditional territory as Old Time Blues returns to George Jones’ like laments while Thorn In My Side returns to the Hankness (if there is such a word) of the opening song. Again it’s a pitch perfect capture of raw country music back in the days when giants ruled the Opry although there is a hint of Parsons in the delivery.
Overall Tyson shows that he has an extraordinary ability to capture and repackage what some folk might consider to be the golden age of Nashville while tweaking it somewhat to bring it up to date. A post modern take on Parson’s Cosmic American Music perhaps, indebted to the elders, topical topics on occasion but overall infused with the spirit of Country music. Whatever it’s one of the best discs we’ve heard this year. The EP is released in early November on Clubhouse Records