Blabber’n’Smoke first became aware of Tami Neilson back in 2015 when we reviewed her album Dynamite! The exclamation mark in the title was well placed as the disc was an excellent slice of revved up rockabilly and hard-core country honky tonk. Chickaboom! really deserves two exclamation marks as it further revs up the energy.
Bequiffed with a tremendous beehive, Neilson is unashamedly retro. The songs here sneak around the likes of Etta James, Mavis Staples (indeed, she pays tribute to the Sister on Sister Mavis), Wanda Jackson and Patsy Cline although she can also deliver an excellent slice of voodoo rock’n’roll in the manner of Screaming Jay Hawkins on the gutsy You Were Mine.
Call Your Mama sets things rolling, its title recalling of course Etta James’ Tell Mama and Neilson does come across here like Etta fronting The Cramps. And that’s part of the beauty of the album, the fifties and sixties styles driven with a riveting studio gloss, the guitars swathed in reverb and twang, recalling the rockabilly revivals of the eighties and onward.
Neilson is a force of nature on the ballsy Ten Tonne Truck as she adds a lascivious laugh to the choruses and 16 Miles Of Chain allows her to bellow magnificently over some fabulous junkyard blues. Queenie, Queenie meanwhile adopts the Dixie Cups’ Iko Iko rythym and her tribute to Mavis Staples is rollicking and slapping rockabilly deluxe. She steps out from her comfort zone in the early sixties romance of Any Fool With A Heart which has an Everley’s touch to it while the closing song, Sleep, is a lullaby with a light touch with a slight sense of Santos And Johnny to it along with a Disney like naiveté.
With ten songs all blasted out in half an hour, Chickaboom! is tremendous fun. Do join in.
We’re all used to the UK being somewhat behind the times when it comes to the Antipodes what with them celebrating New Year when we’re just getting out of our beds on 31st December. Well, in the case of Dynamite! we’re several months behind as this album was released in New Zealand around a year ago but is only now getting a UK release. Tami Neilson is garlanded in NZ, winner of their version of the Grammies on four occasions plus several song writing awards, not bad for a Canadian girl who grew up as part of her family’s country/gospel road show before moving down under after marrying a New Zealander.
Anyway, Dynamite! is a dynamite album, retro tooled from the cover art to the music to capture the bygone era of Sun Records and gutsy singers such as Wanda Jackson and Patsy Cline as Neilson delves into rockabilly, country and soul with some panache, a down under Imelda May indeed. The ten songs here are all top notch. Neilson can sound ferocious, sultry, sassy or menacing as required while the band and production nail the sound. Big boned guitars, velvety pedal steel and rattling percussion with country fiddle here and there are all bundled up in a glorious noise that reeks of valves and old time radio broadcasts.
The album opens with the defiant clarion call of Walk (Back To Your Arms) with Neilson walking on the wild side as she defies family wisdom and goes back to a bad boy’s embrace. With its bluesy riff and sinister guitar it evokes images of lurid pulp fiction covers of the fifties. Come Over is a thrash of a song that is like a shot of adrenaline to the soul amplifying the likes of Brenda Lee to the nth degree. The following Texas is a reprieve as Neilson shifts into country mode with ease, the song a brilliant recreation of early sixties honky tonk country music and there’s more country on the loose limbed Honey Girl which has some rootsy fiddling and excellent fingerpickin’ guitar. Whiskey and Kisses is another country song but here we’re in saloon bar territory as Neilson is joined on vocals by guitarist Delaney Davidson for a tearstained lament in the best George & Tammy tradition. Neilson shares vocals again with Davidson on the dramatic Running To You which is a driving romantic narrative in the vein of Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra or Calexico on The Ballad of Cable Hogue and which sends shivers up the spine. As if this were not enough Neilson offers up some tin pan alley/Brill Building melodrama on the beehived and pizzicato pop song that is Cry Over You. It would be remiss not to mention the title song which is in a similar vein to Walk (Back To Your Arms) but here the guitar really sparks and burns as the drums pound and Neilson sings with a vengeance. Absolutely brilliant.