If you’re in Basildon and happen across a chap who looks like an accountant carrying a guitar case then our advice is to follow him and see where he’s playing. Odds are that this suited and bespectacled character is Bob Collum, an Oklahoman who for several years has lived in Essex. Long enough it seems for the sound of South London and the Thames Delta to percolate into his fibre and in particular that mix of country, rock, blues and R’n’B that informed the likes of The Kursaal Flyers, Eddie and The Hotrods, Roogalator and eventually flowered in the mature work of Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe.
Like Roogalator’s Danny Adler Collum has the advantage of actually being an American and one supposes this gives him a bit of a head start when it comes to conjuring up visions of the country in song. In fact Collum states that the album is in some ways a look back at what he remembers of America, an angle that is uppermost in some of the songs. Of these Johnny Held Them Down is the most obvious as Collum goes into Costello and the Attractions angry mode to stamp on the Confederate flag while Locust Grove abandons any attempts to sound Essex bound as Collum delivers an excellent, stark and haunting ballad that recounts a murder that occurred in Tulsa in 1977. Elsewhere there’s a fine acapella introduction to Seven Kinds Of Sorrow before the song swings into country rock territory as practiced by the likes of Poco back in the days, Poco being an apt comparison as the fabulous pedal steel work by Allan Kelly is up there with Rusty Young. Kelly is key to the album’s overall sound with his fat and sweet playing while Marianne Hyatt (another US ex pat) is a fine vocal foil to Collum throughout. It’s a pity that her showcase, Superdome, is slightly overwrought as opposed to the loose freewheelin’ style enjoyed by the rest of the songs. Her duet with Collum on the wonderfully dippy honky tonk duet Good Thing We’re In Love more than makes up for this as her sassy ripostes in the chorus bear comparison with Tammy and Dolly and the more recent efforts of Lou Dalgleish of My Darling Clementine. Like My Darling Clementine’s tales of marital disharmony it’s excellently delivered with a deep twangy solo from Martin Belmont who recently performed a similar role on Hank Wangford’s dissection of country waltzes.
Elsewhere the chunky rhythm section of Paul Quarry and Gareth Davis along with Collum’s gutsy guitar are joined by Peter Holsapple on organ for the sweeping title song while Wasted Wonderland is a fine example of what Danny Adler called “gusha gusha” music, laden with hooks and a fine sinewy backbone as Kelly’s pedal steel punctuates the song throughout, a sound that is captured throughout making this a very fine offering indeed.