Miss Laurie Ann & the SaddleTones,
Ease My Mind
(independent, 2014)

The case needs to be advanced more often that what's called "traditional country" is country music plain and simple. Except for the name, little that has emanated from Nashville in the past two and a half decades amounts to more than a faint simulation of the genuine article, whose heyday extended from the late 1940s into the early 1970s, roughly between Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell on one end and Merle Haggard and George Jones on the other. There were important women singers, too, of course: the nearly forgotten but once popular Molly O'Day, Kitty Wells, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette among others.

In the 1980s, when actual country enjoyed a brief resurgence, the adjective "traditional" was applied to it as if to intimate it was simply a passing glance backward. Accordingly, Music City then returned to the business of business, after being dragooned for a short, unhappy time into pretending it was trafficking in music. These days artists who do traffic in music -- including Miss Laurie Ann & the SaddleTones -- more often work outside Nashville than inside it. Surprisingly, the Northeast hosts a fair supply of bands immersed in mid-century country and rockabilly. I tend to associate them with Bill Hunt's Cow Island label out of Northampton, Massachusetts. Though New Jersey's Miss Laurie Ann (Laura Hullinger) isn't formally signed to Cow Island, Hunt (identified as "tape operator") appears in a group shot from the recording studio in an accompanying information hand-out.

Ease My Mind is the sort of album that, if you don't like it, you and I probably don't have much to talk about. Probably, let me add, about much of anything at all. Either you love country music, or you don't, and this is for those of us long resident in the former category. If you're among the enamored, hardly anything here feels dated; it sounds like, well, country music eternal, just the way the gods of rhythm, melody and twang intended it. Laurie Ann composed most of these songs, her husband Mark Hullinger two others; she and veteran roots-rocker Dave Gonzalez co-wrote "Why Don't We Fall in Love" and the three of them "Big Rig."

Every cut has its pleasures, not least the just-mentioned meat-and-potatoes truckin' song, which reminds me of how sorely I miss meat-and-potatoes truckin' songs. The rockabilly rave-up "Let's Fight" serves up wit and joy in portions unusual even in the best-natured songs. I'm sure it's not the only song about what Seinfeld famously called "make-up sex," but it's hard to imagine there's a better one out there. The gloriously mournful "Stoney Lonesome Blues" could be a collaboration between Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams.

Surely, however, the strangest number must be Mark's "Word Around the Campfire," which resurrects a genre of hokey faux-folk practiced in the early pre-rock 'n' roll, pre-folk revival 1950s and associated with the likes of Tennessee Ernie Ford and Frankie Laine. I had always taken for granted that every one of these sorts of songs was written in Los Angeles, but Mark Hullinger, from the East Coast, breaks the mold. Not a complaint, mind you; the song ought to generate smiles all around, and I'm sure that's the intention.

Good music made by good people, Ease My Mind will ease yours. Even a lot of music I enjoy doesn't necessarily lift my spirits, but this certainly manages that. Still, it is depressing to contemplate that music of this sort isn't, as once it was, all around us.

music review by
Jerome Clark

9 August 2014

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