We’ve always been partial to Rob Heron & The Tea Pad Orchestra’s jived-up take on old timey music, a grand blend of western swing, country blues and ragtime. They’ve reminded us at times of Pokey LaFarge (with whom they have toured) and it has to be said they do put on a grand live show. On Soul Of My City they continue to evolve with some elements of rockabilly and early sixties beat pop creeping in, but at heart they are still supreme evangelists for pre sixties music albeit that Heron has at times allied this innocent sounding music with current commentary on state of our nation and his home town of Newcastle.
Such is the case here with the title song ramming in with a stirring martial beat before Heron and the band slouch into a louche late night vamp as he rails against the so called “gentrification” of a bohemian Newcastle quarter, an excuse really for a moneyed land grab. There’s more social commentary on the lighter Lonely Boy In The Dole Queue which finds Heron solo and yodelling away in his best Jimmie Rodgers style. Meanwhile the syncopated swing and twang of There’s A Hole (Where My Pocket Used To Be) is a grand nod to hard luck songs of the past with its excellent and flamboyant delivery similar to that of local neon lit sonic gangsters, The Strange Blue Dreams.
The band roam across various styles in a grand fashion. Life Is A Drag is a cross dressing song given a stirring western swing outing, Une Bouteille De Beaujolais has a not unexpected Gallic touch while Holy Moly (I’m In Love Again) comes across like as if Hank Williams was being accompanied by an extremely dexterous bunch of Acadian musicians. They do vamp wonderfully on Fool Talking Man and One Letter Away From Lonely is a total swoon of a bobbysoxer song. There’s a bit more muscle in the rockin’ rumble of Let’s Go Back In Time, a big boned salute to old time music as Heron lists his favourites while singing, “That 21st century music man, it’s so watered down.” Like A Cuckoo teeters dangerously close to his cut off point as the band give us a finely attuned horn fuelled bop which could have featured on the soundtrack of the original John Waters’ Hairspray. Signing off with what is probably the first postmodern take on old time music’s occasional interest in sex, stymied at the time by obscenity laws and therefore couched in various terms, there’s Double Meaning, Double Entendre. It’s cool, it’s funny, and best of all, it rocks.
Rob Heron & The Teapad Orchestra are touring the UK in February and March including shows in Glasgow and Edinburgh. All dates here.