Cale Tyson hit the boards running with his mini albums, Cheater’s Wine and High On Lonesome two years ago. They catapulted him into the forefront of the young pretenders, a disparate group of young country artists who hark back to the glory days of country while infusing it with a new energy. Tyson had the lonesome blues of Hank Williams down to a tee while his energy and enthusiasm was as infectious as Gram Parsons’ had been. Careless Soul is his first full length album and, while it builds on the music contained on the two previous discs, it’s a significant step forward for his exploration of Country music, expanding the vista and boldly moving out of what many would have thought would be his comfort zone.
While the album has its fair share of heartbreakers, still stained by the ghost of Williams, Tyson adds his version of Tin Pan Alley country, all zipping strings and brash melodies, and, as the title alludes to, he incorporates some country soul into the songs with a horn section and electric piano prominent on several of the numbers. His decision to record the album at the famed Muscle Shoals studios offers a chicken or egg situation here. Did he go there to sound soulful or did the ghosts in the studio machine haunt him? Who knows? What we do know is that the album is a magnificent effort which is tied together by Tyson’s flowing vocals, heart worn and warm, and his words which plough a familiar field but throw up new earth.
The album opens with the arrogant strut of Staying Kind, peppered with brash horns and tinkling keyboards, Tyson as laconic as Sal Valentino in his delivery. One could imagine this would be a killer as a guest slot on the Bobbie Gentry TV show back in the sixties, psychedelic camera work zooming in on the short and taut guitar solo. This golden era when showbiz recognised quality music is revisited on the pizzicato strings and guitar which decorate the pop croon of the title track. Popcorn and candy Elvis with a hint of the exotic Acapulco on the Spanish guitar dominate here, Tyson carries off the pastiche with some brio. Pain In My heart equally draws on an old template, almost doo-wop in its delivery, teardrops from the guitar solo, one can imagine teen-age girls swooning to this back in the days, Tyson brylcreamed up and winking at the camera.
The soul side sweeps in with a vengeance on the horn infused Somebody Save Me, a wonderful concoction of churchlike organ, female backing choir and sinuous pedal steel, Tyson testifying wonderfully as he seeks salvation from his murderous urges with a fervour similar to Solomon Burke. Similarly Dark Dark marries pedal steel and organ on a doleful journey into the heart of darkness, his voice echoed by the female chorus on a real teardropper.
It’s not all doom and gloom and croon here however. Tyson kicks ass on several of the songs. Railroad Blues is a souped up belter, the steel guitar rolling on the tracks over a helter skelter rhythm section. High Lonesome Hill is a vivid reimagining of Hank Williams’ ramblings given a noirish makeover, a low moaning slink with an intense feel, a kaleidoscopic giddiness in its rhythm as Tyson just stops short from a yodel as guitars flail and wail. Best of all however is the tremendous Easy which is a somewhat lecherous odyssey of a musician’s opportunities. Here Tyson manages to inhabit the cosmic cowboy persona of Gram Parsons, awed by the lights of Las Vegas and the glam therein while the band are spot on here sounding so much like Gram’s band and Emmylou Harris’ Hot Band, the guitar whizzing like James Burton, the rest as tight as the proverbial duck.
It’s maybe not the album we expected from Mr. Tyson but it’s a bold adventure and after several listenings we conclude that it’s actually quite brilliant. It’s out this Friday on Clubhouse Records and Tyson is touring the UK this month, dates here