Liam Fitzgerald & the Rainieros,
Last Call!
(independent, 2012)

Last Call! manages to pull off something that isn't so easy to do: make new music out of an old sound. Here, the sound is the honkytonk swing mastered by Hank Thompson & the Brazos Valley Boys and lesser-remembered outfits in their 1950s heyday. Theirs was an exuberant, extroverted music, communicating good, usually alcohol-fueled times even if the lyrics, pretty much incidental, sometimes registered complaint and heartbreak.

Liam Fitzgerald, also the band's rhythm guitarist, has exactly the right voice, one that is both technically good and temperamentally good-natured, as well as the requisite writing chops; the songs are all his compositions. The Rainieros are one terrific band. Ordinarily comprising Russ Blake (pedal steel), Johnny Mercury (electric lead guitar) and Tyler Johnson (bass), they're joined here by a couple of ace country fiddlers, Joe Fulton and Greg Canote, for 10 songs that resurrect spirits from that distant age when real hillbilly music propelled dancers and sweetened juke boxes and the music sounded as if it came from a place deeper than market research.

This band comes from Seattle, and its members are young guys whose ears are attuned to records that were cut well before they were born. It's too much fun to feel like revivalism, even if strictly speaking that's what it is. All you have to do is listen to Blake's pedal-steel solo on "You Can Call Me Crazy (Any Time)," and uncritical belief in all that surrounds and follows falls easily into place.

I've never entirely understood why hard-core honkytonk music -- a genre, like bluegrass, passingly popular among the mass country audience decades ago -- hasn't forged the career path (via festivals, specialty record labels, clubs, a small but committed fan base) that has kept bluegrass alive and financially viable well past its sell-by date. Why are there so few bands like Liam Fitzgerald's?

All the more reason to appreciate those that are here, I guess. Let's hope this isn't really Last Call!

music review by
Jerome Clark

22 September 2012

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