A recent article in Billboard magazine seemed to think that “UK Americana” was a new trend, citing artists who had played at the recent Americana Fest in Nashville. And while it’s perhaps true to say that the UK division of Twang has been getting its act together (principally via AMA-UK) over the past few years, Blabber’n’Smoke can testify to a much longer tradition going back to the seventies while Americana UK has been on the go since 2001. Anyway, thinking about this we were reminded of Red Moon Joe’s recent album, Time & Life. It’s their second release from their first reincarnation – the band originally convened in 1985 but split in 1993 – and it’s proof that some of us on this side of the pond have had the bug for quite some time.
Helmed by singer and guitarist, Mark Wilkinson, a man who built up a reputation as a go to guitar player for the likes of Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle and Guy Clark, Red Moon Joe rode the wave of cowpunk and alt country back in the days before going their separate ways. Their reunion album, Midnight Trains, released in 2013 (20 years after their last effort) was well received and now, only four years later here’s the follow up. Wilkinson is still front and centre although he shares writing credits with several of the band members (Steve Conway, David A Smith, Dave Fitzpatrick and Paul Casey) and as befits their more mature years, much of the album reflects the gathered wisdom of age with songs recalling past events and past heroes.
With several of the songs recalling the likes of Uncle Tupelo and Jason & The Scorchers the album is a fine blend of up tempo rockers and more reflective ballads, the music finely balanced between electric fuelled blusters and gentler, acoustic, meditations. The notion of looking back is introduced via the album’s title and the title of the opening song, both a nod to a Swinburne poem, but the song is far removed from Swinburne’s Victorian decadence (for that check out The Fugs) as the band weigh in sounding like Uncle Tupelo, guitars thrashing while pedal steel sneaks its way in with guest, Justin Currie adding harmony vocals. The High Lonesome, which follows, again features a guest singer. This time Cathryn Craig duets with Wilkinson as a banjo acutely cuts into the guitars and pedal steel while Wilkinson whips out a fine solo before the song flows into an extended jam with the pedal steel and guitar duelling much in the manner of Poco back in the days. There’s another excellent cosmic cowboy moment on One Day Behind, a glorious conglomeration of psychedelic pedal steel and bustling banjos, the band again recalling early pioneers such as New Riders Of The Purple Sage.
They delve into Jason & The Scorchers territory with Hard Road where Wilkinson’s solo challenges Warner E Hodges and there’s a swell Waylon Jennings’ country thump to Shadows. Meanwhile, and closer to home, they employ a horn section on the E Street sounding dedication to striking miners on the anthemic Orgreave while Elvis, Townes and Hank is an excellent ode to their roots with the horn section, slide guitar and solid rhythm reminding one of The Band. The album closes with the waltz time Tex Mex border strains of Nobody’s Fool, a song that surely was conceived in the midst of a Van Zandt listening binge.
Time & Life is surely evidence that the man on the Clapham omnibus can connect with the drifter on the interstate Greyhound and its highly recommended.