Soundchecks Music Reviews

Last Train to Mashville vol.2

One Little Indian TPLP386CD

Alabama 3

review by Andrew Darlington

Is it still possible to open a song "woke up this morning" with a straight face? Yes, and no. Yes, because it's all growling vocals and keening harmonica, fine Exile On Main Street trash well-under the Gram Parsons' influence. And no, because Alabama 3 only inflict it through a deliberate fug of wit, irony and chemically frazzled intelligence. Anyway, this Woke Up This Morning is a knowingly mangled adaptation of a Chester 'Howlin' Wolf' Burnett original. You probably heard it on The Sopranos soundtrack. Or on their playfully provocative 1997 debut album Exile On Coldharbour Lane. Their take on John Prine's Speed Of The Sound Of Loneliness - from the same source, emerges here as a fractured good-time boogie with just a hint of The Mavericks and a guest hellfire preacher for moral guidance. Meanwhile, Too Sick To Pray (from 2000's La Peste) comes on like an alt-Amerikana Primal Scream outtake.

Then there's Woody Guthrie, one of four from their cunningly subversive October 2002 Power In The Blood set, marking their up-label shift from Elemental to One Little Indian. Bringing good sense and a valuable humanity, at last, to the immigrant issue - "I'll sing a song for the asylum seeker and pray they reach a safe harbour." 'Unplugged' acoustic sets artfully sampling the best of previous albums are more usually an excuse for treading water. Waiting for inspiration. This isn't like that. This is an album of wry country noir reworking their 'acid country gospel blues' through a digital lens. Taking the post-'Acid House' scenario of U Don't Danse To Tekno Anymore into narco-blues suburbia, lamenting "it's been a while since I saw your ultra-violet smile," while you're strung-out with only Special K to keep the withdrawal chills away.

The album's reference points run from Dr Timothy Leary, Irvine Welsh, vile KKK white supremacists, Hank Williams singing 'a lovesick blues', Marilyn Manson and the BNP. A junkie-world inhabited by Sad-Eyed Ladies of the Low-Life caught between the communist, the hedonist or the whore, where every winner is a villain, and every loser a hero. But haven't we got enough sallow white substance abusers in ragged narcotic bohemia already? Apparently not. Do we need more? On this evidence, it seems, definitely yes.

Edited by Tony Lee
for PIGASUS Press