Tony Villiers from Armagh, N. Ireland seems to be a bit of a Dylan fan calling his first album Thin Wild Mercury, a reference to a famous Dylan quote when he was asked to describe his mid sixties music. Songs Of Love and Fate, his second album, could similarly be a nod to L. Cohen’s 1971 album, Songs of Love and Hate however anyone expecting an album of dyed in the wool existentialist angst will be somewhat let down. Now surrounded by his Villains (Paul Meehan – Guitar, mandolin, banjo, Kevin Mahoney – Bass guitar, Aidan McGillion – Percussion , Paul Gurney – Piano, organ, guitar, accordion , Danny Sheerin – Backing vocals and Tony Fitzgibbon – Violin) Villiers still has a bit of a Dylan habit, witness his Big Old Dancin’ Bear Blues. It opens with Villiers coming across like the early Dylan; scuffling for basket money in Greenwich Village with his talking blues songs before the band come in after a few bars, the focus switching to Dylan and his Canadian buddies holed up in Big Pink having fun as they recalled that old weird Americana. Of course Villiers et al aren’t up there with Bob and The Band but he does grab the essential sense of fun that was conjured up in Woodstock and lyrically the song is a tremendous grab bag of Villiers’ heroes referencing Johnny Cash, Ray Charles and of course Dylan himself while also throwing in Pretty Boy Floyd for good measure.
The heady mix of country and blues that composes The Basement Tapes is recalled on several of the songs here. Lucky Rabbit Foot is a fine loose-limbed ramble with a fine joke in the opening lines as Howlin’ Wolf comes “a ‘knocking at the door” while Dear Mama is a steady rolling song with some fine bar room piano barrelling throughout. Villiers and band deliver this type of folky blues with some aplomb, able to go old time on Rabid Dog Blues and get down and dirty on the lascivious Last Night although here they’re leaning more towards an urban electric blues groove.Rocksalt meanwhile leans more towards the UK sixties acoustic folk scene, almost easy listening but with a slight nod to that old refrain of having cocaine in my vein.
Dylan is again recalled as Villiers opens his song Ramblin’ Man with the words, “Woody Guthrie was a ramblin’ man” but here the band hit a different stride as they hit a groove that, despite the Dylanish harmonica, recalls the strut and swagger of Lou Reed or Willy DeVille. Whether this was written after Villiers and the band were more comfortable together is not known but it serves notice that they’re capable of much more than their very efficient delivery of country blues songs. This is compounded by the excellent opening song, Devil And The Deep Blue Sea which again has the Lou Reed street suss and arrogance delivered with a grand sweep that, as the fiddle becomes more prominent, moves into Waterboys territory. More so, Swinging Into The Sunshine mainlines Lou Reed like lyrics and vocal warbles, the band humming in the background on what is a minor gem of a song.