Blabber’n’Smoke was glad to have a sneak preview of Colorado musician David Starr’s latest album, South and West prior to him playing a show in Glasgow this week. The follow up to his acclaimed Love & Sabotage (from 2016 with a John Oates’ produced EP in between), South and West is another robust and joyful dive into those halcyon days of freewheeling and hair flowing country rock songs from the seventies with a dash of more introspective melodies giving the album just enough emotional ballast to prevent it from flying down the freeway.
Written in Cedaredge, Colorado and recorded in Nashville (hence the title) Starr and his accomplished band (Dan Dugmore, guitars, pedal and lap steel, mandolin; Erik Stucky, mandolin; Mark Prentice, bass; Mike Severs, guitars; Howard Duck, keyboards and accordion; Tommy Hayden, drums) expertly navigate the difficult waters of playing like a plethora of the usual suspects (Eagles, Poco, Fleetwood Mac) while not copying them and even occasionally wandering into unexpected backwaters as when they deliver Could Have Run Together with its churchy organ and sweet guitar outro recalling The Stones’ in their more mellow moods. Starr, who wrote or co-wrote all bar one of the songs here, has his finger on the button throughout with arresting images such as on the opening lines of Nothing Short as he sings, “There’s a jar full of nickels on a stand beside the bed. The sun hits it in the morning, shines like a million bucks.”
The album opens with a classic wide open road song on Good As Gone, the restless spirit of the adventurer bouncing out of the speakers buoyed on frantically scrubbed acoustic guitar, a propulsive rhythm and some muscular guitar breaks. There are several such numbers here. Love Won’t Make Itself starts off as a breezy Fleetwood Mac like number before Dugmore’s pedal steel weighs in and transports the song into cosmic cowboy territory. Even better is the fiery Until It’s Gone with Starr singing, “Of the ten commandments I’ve broken nine, and the tenth I’ll believe I’ll break in time,” as the band really rock out with barrelhouse piano, wicked slide guitar and caroming bass and drums, the song coming across as a brilliant mash of Springsteen and Joe Walsh.
Nestled between these rousing anthems are several more laid back numbers. The sweet accordion and pedal steel laced Don’t Give Me Hope, the yearning that is the mandolin speckled Night Rolls Around, a song reminiscent of Jackson Browne, and the closing These Damn Goodbyes, an excellent song which conveys a wonderful sense of bittersweet memories and letting go. Nestled within these songs Starr conjures up an excellent cover of Elton John’s Country Comfort, a fine reminder that the man with the funny specs (and his writing partner) used to matter. While it’s fairly faithful to the original the band swell out the song excellently and Starr sounds uncannily like John. He’s aided and abetted here by his quartet of harmony singers who sing throughout the album adding yet more texture to the fine band sound.
All in all South and West is an almost perfect collection of breezy country rock with some added muscle provided by the excellent ensemble playing. Starr is obviously well versed in his forebears and he is well able to dig a similar seam. Perfect summer listening.