Been a while since I heard from Ten Gallon Bratz, a band I reviewed for Americana UK back in 2006 but you can’t keep a good man (or band) down and Tales From The Long Shadows is a world away from their first tentative steps. Hailing from Greenock the Bratz are of a certain vintage that probably allows them to look back with some fondness to what passed for country rock back in the days before alt country kicked in. Their sound certainly reflects the likes of Poco, Guy Clark and the Eagles while there’s a Celtic tinge to some of their songs with Same Old Song seeming to come from time spent listening to The Waterboys.
A five piece band with three guitarists on board, they open the album with the guitar heavy stomp of Nothing Left To Say as the acoustics flail away and the electric guitar riffs in a Big Country style. It’s a big bold statement but in terms of the album somewhat misleading as what follows is more nuanced and dare I say, more interesting. Personally I’d prefer it at the end but there’s no doubt that it’s destined to be a crowd pleaser. The guitar crunching side of the band is revisited on the burnished bruise that is Fish Out Of Water, a shimmering groove that doffs its hat to Chris Issak and Jace Everett with its air of menace. For the remainder however the band allow their harmonies, allied to some fine picking, to showcase their talent and it’s here that that we find the heart of the band, one they offer live as testified some weeks ago when we saw them open for The Howling Brothers. While there’s a Ronnie Lane feel to the shuffling strut of Too Far Gone the band are at their best when they hunker down in their vision of American roots music. The addition of pedal steel by Iain Sloan (Wynntown Marshals) and fiddle (Alison McNeill, Reely Jiggered) fleshes out the sound on a slew of songs that drink deep from the Americana well. New King In Town has some very sweet and sorrowful Dobro and pedal steel flourishes as a relationship breaks down while All Fall Down swells musically despite the downbeat story. Brand New Old Fashioned Blues is a terrific tear stained lament with weeping pedal steel while Who’s Left To Save The Working Man delves into Steve Earle and Bruce Springsteen territory in their stripped down Woody Guthrie guises. Here the Bratz strive to celebrate and commiserate with the downtrodden and they succeed as they really nail it here.