When North Kentuckian, Jeremy Pinnell, released his first album, OH/KY, a few years back I reviewed it for Americana UK saying, “The ten songs here are all exemplars of Country tradition be it Hank or Merle or Waylon.” Ties Of Blood And Affection reaffirms my thoughts back then as Pinnell spins nine songs with each and every one of them a stone cold killer, steeped in a tough country tradition and elevated at times by some killer lyrics. In his songs he inhabits badlands, honky tonks and whorehouses. His spirit is defiant and proud, past sins are to be accounted for but in the meantime there’s a life to be lived and his characters live pretty full lives.
The record swings with a brashness that harks back to Waylon Jennings’ Lonesome, On’ry & Mean; country music with a rock’n’roll heart, Jennings’ response back then to Nashville’s increasingly straight laced music, Hank Williams music for modern times. Jennings and his fellow outlaws won that battle back then but today, with Nashville again trying to lose country’s roots in favour of flavourless ‘bro country, it’s artists like Pinnell who are carrying the flag for an authentic take on what Jimmy Rogers called the white man’s blues.
An acoustic guitar leads us into the arresting opening lyrics of Ballad Of 1892 as Pinnell sings, “Laid up in the house full of hookers and wine, my baby’s in the back done committing a crime” before the band slink in with a solid country beat, slinky guitars and tough pedal steel flashing like a flick knife. Take The Wheel is somewhat sweeter despite Pinnell’s gravelly vocals on a road song that barrels along with gliding pedal steel before a road stop in a honky tonk on Feel This Right. Here Pinnell is in his comfort zone, a bar room philosopher declaring his hard won triumphs and his daily toils. He has to pay his bills but he’s got a kid and a good woman who calls him daddy and his musings are surrounded with a wonderfully realised fat backed, almost Western Swing, style, the band almost lazily laying down some excellent licks. Still in the honky tonk there’s the redemptive love song, I’m Alright With This, with Pinnell casting a gaze back on times in institutions and the days when he went to jail every time he had a beer before being saved by the love of a good woman. Again, Pinnell and the band just slay it with their nonchalant country insouciance, the guitars and pedal steel almost slipping from the speakers.
It’s this lived in aspect that makes the album so attractive. There’s a sense that this is a bunch of guys just laying down their tales, the art disguised by the ease with which they deliver the goods. Think of your favourite country song and there’s a fair bet that one of the songs here will match it. Different Kind Of Love is a sweeping declaration of affection with a Jennings’ like majesty and I Don’t Believe chugs along with some brio and a fine dose of machismo. Ain’t Nothing Wrong is a master class in country rock with the guitar and pedal steel battling it out as the band approach the brilliance of Emmylou’s Hot Band way back then.
The album closes with another tough outlaw type song on The Way We See Heaven with Pinnell again throwing up some arresting lyrics. Here he foretells his hell raising days leading to an eternity below, not an issue as he’ll be with the ones who loved him. It’s delivered with a bewildering skewer of guitars, pedal steel and organ along with a steady outlaw country heartbeat.
The album’s out and Jeremy Pinnell embarks on a short tour of the UK, accompanied by Ags Connolly, this week. All dates here.