My Darling Clementine with Steve Nieve. Country Darkness Vol. 3. Fretsore Records

And so, after some Covid induced delay, here’s the third and final instalment of My Darling Clementine’s foray into the country and soul roots of Elvis Costello. Another four track EP, the disc finds the band again playing with Steve Nieve and the nucleus of Richard Hawley’s band. As before, Nieve’s contributions were relayed electronically but the band members had to wait until the national lockdown was relaxed before they eventually got into the studio.

When investigating Costello’s catalogue to find songs which displayed his Americana bent, the duo sought songs which would suit their own specific style, that classic male/female harmony and counterpoint in the manner of the great partnerships that have sailed across the country charts. To this end, they have a perfect example in the closing song here when they offer a superb reading of Why Can’t A Man Stand Alone ?, a song Costello wrote for Sam Moore (of Sam & Dave) who, in the end, didn’t record it. The song appeared on Costello’s All This Useless Beauty album and according to Michael Weston King, in an interview with Say it With Garage Flowers, “There is a male verse which starts: “Why can’t a man stand alone?”, and the second verse is a female one: “Why can’t a woman be just what she seems? So that immediately felt right for a duet.” The original has its fair share of drama but My Darling Clementine add to that as they enter the song softly with their sweet dueting over a simple electric piano before slowly building to a crescendo, sounding for all the world as if they were starring in a Broadway musical.

Having delved deep into Costello’s backwaters, it’s a nice surprise to find that there are two songs here taken from one of the man’s most celebrated albums, King Of America. I’ll Wear It Proudly is perfect My Darling Clementine fodder, allowing the pair’s voices to entwine wonderfully while Nieve’s arrangement is quite colossal. Indoor Fireworks is a song which Lou Dalgleish has featured live for many years and the duo have recorded it pretty much as they deliver it live. Just the two of them and it’s the only song on the collection which does not feature Nieve and, as such, it depends on their vocal chemistry  which is, as the song says, as safe as houses. Again, it’s quite masterful as to how Weston King and Dalgleish transform Costello’s solo voice into a piece for two singers. Finally, there’s the rather raucous delivery of The Crooked Line, originally on Secret, Profane and Sugarcane. On the previous EP there was a Tex Mex influence on Different Finger with some Augie Meyer styled keyboard but on The Crooked Line, they wig out as if they were exhuming The Sir Douglas Quintet. With swirling Vox organ and oodles of twangy guitar replacing the originals bluegrass styled outing, it’s a grand listen and the band bring it to a storming close.

All in all, My Darling Clementine’s adoption of these songs has been an interesting and at times, exhilarating ride with Nieve’s participation a particularly welcome addition to their musical palette.

Country Darkness Vol. 3 is available on limited edition vinyl and download and the vinyl selection comes with a bespoke slip case to fit all three volumes. In addition, all 12 songs gathered on the EPs will be released on a single CD in November with a brand new My Darling Clementine song added. All purchase options are here.

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