Outlaw is, by turns, funny, witty, irreverent and a slave to some rather loose-knit, loose-fit rhythms.
I like the Alabama 3, not least for their very wry and consistent take on Americana that's been going on for quite some time now. Nothing has really altered in the band's outlook over the last eight or so years, it's still C&W mixed with a nineties sensibility born of the acid house club scene and the Second Summer of Love. Which means you won't be surprised when I tell you Outlaw is, by turns, funny, witty, irreverent and a slave to some rather loose-knit, loose-fit rhythms.
The opening track, Train Intro, is, in effect, a train sample. Last Train to Mashville sees a growly voice intone suggestive thoughts over a bleepy synth. It's essentially an invitation to indulge in some C&W escapism (and if I heard right, cross dressing). It reminds this reviewer of Barry Adamson's Oedipus Shmoedipus, and that is no bad thing at all.
Terra Firma Cowboy Blues outlines one cowboy's attempts to leave the stratosphere, due in the main, to his broken heart. Again, there's that laid-back groove that underpins the track, hinting to a preference for a very early-nineties drumming style; (Step On springs immediately to mind). Actually, it's an affecting ditty, effectively and sparingly presented. Keep Your Shades On has it's roots firmly planted in Beck's Odelay period territory; ingredients being, of course, a simple melody, groovy backing, low vocals, and tongue in cheek lyrics. The line, "If you gonna cry, keep you're shades on" is just one example of the high Nashville camp that can be found within the confines of this song.
Hello.... I'm Johnny Cash is a cracker, a brilliant Walter Mitty style tale of factory floor dreams with a great slide guitar part and a great Kraftwerk style coda at the end. Up Above My Head takes a Beastie Boys beat and some drawly guitar to whip up a storm of a song. The vocals never stop being growly, and, when they are played against the increasingly choral backdrop, underpin a mighty noise. Brilliant stuff, music to put your new jeans on to. Adrenaline is quieter, conjouring up a lonely bar at closing time. It's a real blokish lament. The words "down at heel" "stumblin' home" and "streetlights" are mentioned. This all should lead you to conclude that this is a bar-room lament. Well, yes, though the sudden change of tone and the cod-rap that appears half way through somewhat alter matters.
Have You Seen Bruce Richard Reynolds is high camp; the story of the great train robbery is transported from 1963 England to the Bible Belt. Slide guitars and mouth organs predominate. The words "quid" and "doing bird" are mentioned. It's bonkers, but a lot of fun. Honey in The Rock takes the chorus of That Old Sweet Roll and elements of House of the Rising Sun to create a slow burner with a great boy-girl love story. The backing of How Can I Protect You starts in a manner very reminiscent of Kraftwerk or Coldcut, but then mutates to high MOR camp chorus that is damned sublime. The story is of course partly about drink, love and raising a family whilst living on the edge, (I think). Let It Slide is another spaced-out hillbilly tale with a David Holmes edge. It gets all spacey and Primal Screamy by the end, which is no bad thing at all. The last track, Gospel Train is pleasantly kooky; an amalgamation of a light acoustic strum, gospel backing and kooky synths. A tale of Armageddon (for this is what the lyrics are concerned about) never sounded so beguiling.
Great fun, this album and a good laugh to boot. Wish there were more records like it.
Words: Richard Foster