Karen Collins & the Backroads Band,
Tail Light Blues
(Azalea City, 2007)

You'd assume that from their name Karen Collins & the Backroads Band would be a bluegrass outfit. Not so; this is a hard-core honkytonk operation, with electric and steel guitars and drums alongside acoustic guitar, banjo and fiddle. Still, one easily can imagine many of the songs on Tail Light Blues done as bluegrass pieces. On the other hand, country bands rooted in the 1950s are scarcer than bluegrass groups doing the same.

Which is to say that if you like traditional country, you'll be pleased with what Collins and her band are up to. Her background is certainly authentic enough. She grew up in modest circumstances in southwestern Virginia listening to country music when the surrounding mountains didn't block radio signals from the Grand Ole Opry. She was unable to scrape together the money for a decent guitar until just after she left college. In some ways Collins is like somebody from an earlier generation of hillbilly music.

On Tail Light she provides most of the vocals before a core trio of Ira Gitlin (guitars, banjo, harmony vocals), Geff King (electric and acoustic bass, vocals) and Rob Howe (drums), with periodic assist from the able likes of former Ernest Tubb steel guitarist Buddy Charleton, dobroist/lap-steel player Matt Levine and others. Eight of the 13 cuts are Collins originals, most in the style of Opry music from five decades ago, though "Heart Attack" is set nicely to Cajun rhythms. King and Gitlin contribute a couple of solid compositions ("Forgive My Heart for Breaking" and "Half Moon Shuffle," respectively). Two covers, the pop standard "Sentimental Journey" and a gender-altered version of the 1968 Waylon Jennings hit "Only Daddy That'll Walk the Line" (here "Only Mama..."), round out the disc.

Far more men than women are reviving traditional country. That makes Collins a novel presence, but she also happens to be a thoroughly capable practitioner. I confess, however, that I hope she has a bluegrass album in her somewhere down the road.

review by
Jerome Clark

2 February 2008

what's new