For most, Philip Rambow is a name from the past having made some waves in seventies London, bridging pub rock, glam and punk. Rambow, a Canadian, had two shots at fame, first with his band The Winkies and then as a solo artist. His albums were critically admired but he had more success with his song writing, including co-writing There’s A Guy Down The Chip Shop Swears He’s Elvis with the late Kirsty MacColl. So much so that after two solo albums in 1979 and then 1981, he didn’t release another album until Whatever Happened To Phil Rambow? appeared in 2015.
Canadiana, a mere five years later, confirms that Rambow’s writing is as sharp as ever while the album title (not sure if we could call it a pun, but, whatever) is an attempt to convey a sense of his musical journey from youthful days in Canada to his time spent in the UK playing his take on American music, a journey reflected in the album artwork and liner notes. And, make no mistake, this is American music, ranging from country swing, honky tonk and good old fashioned country. The fact that he’s aided and abetted by the likes of CJ Hillman on pedal steel, Pete Thomas on drums and the mighty Martin Belmont on guitar helps of course and the end result is an excellent and eminently listenable album which features both humour and heartbreak.
The album kicks off in a grand style as Hillman’s pedal steel leads into a song which could have featured on any number of cosmic cowboy albums from the seventies. American Buffalo laments the loss of the American dream with Rambow touching on totems now long gone. Things Are Not Looking Good touches on similar ground although here Rambow delivers a cartoon like tapestry of domestic disasters sounding like a hillbilly Dylan fronting a western swing band influenced by Louis Jordan. It’s a fine chortle and is accompanied later on by the swinging Piggin’ Out which will surely thrill any fans of the late Dan Hicks.
Springtime In my Heart is a finely tuned sardonic take on social media with a nice old-fashioned palm tree orchestra lilt and Get Even is a finger popping jazzy number with a sly dobro solo but Rambow returns to more country sounds on a couple of numbers. Hard Times is a red dirt ballad portraying a marriage gone wrong, worthy of Guy Clark, and then there’s the magnificent Out On Your Own – a duet with Sharlene Hector – a true tears in your beer honky tonk wallow. Hector features again on Oceans Apart, another couple uncoupling song but given a tragic faded grandeur while the closing song, Devoted To You, finds Rambow, over a wonderfully realised arrangement which is part sixties melodramatic pop, part David Lynch, inhabiting a needy and seedy chanteur pleading to his lover. Quite excellent.