The Lucky Tomblin Band,
Honky Tonk Merry Go Round
(Texas World, 2010)

What most people think of as traditional country music entered the world soon after World War II, making itself at home in the tough rural and blue-collar bars of the Southwest. It was stripped-down Western swing, which meant small bands (not incidentally, more affordable to maintain) instead of big ones. If these bands still swung, the jazz content was significantly reduced, and the melodies tended to the simple, straightforward and easily recalled. It was soundtrack music for dancing, easing heartache, guzzling alcohol, doing your best (or worst) to get laid, fighting and -- if you couldn't run fast enough -- having your sorry ass hauled off to jail on a drunk-and-disorderly.

Old-school country may have settled down since then, but people who love that sound can never get enough of it. Since I am one of them -- I've been around long enough to remember (if barely) Hank Williams when he was alive -- the chances that I would write a negative review of anything titled Honky Tonk Merry Go Round are probably not discernable even by sophisticated scientific instruments. All we honkytonkers ask for is that the music be done right, and that's not an issue -- even remotely -- here. The Texas-music veterans who comprise the Lucky Tomblin Band are as good as anybody who's still doing it the tried-and-true way.

Not all of the seven core members are solely country pickers, but unadorned honkytonk is their anchor, or at least they make it feel that way. Lead guitarist/Telecaster hero Redd Volkaert has played in Merle Haggard's legendary band, the Strangers (routinely called the finest in all of country music). Singer Lucky Tomblin has been performing on hillbilly stages since he was a little kid. Piano player Earl Poole Ball was with Johnny Cash for two decades. Bassist Sarah Brown and drummer Jon Hahn claim years in country, blues and rock groups, and rhythm guitarist Bobby Arnold has worked with Neil Young, Les Paul, Ray Charles and Willie Nelson. Guitarist/fiddler John Reed has had a long professional association with country/folk/rock heroes Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock.

Merry Go Round is the band's fourth album (I reviewed two earlier ones in this space on 20 May 2006 and 29 September 2007). On one level it's more of the same, and on another it's a tad better just because these guys have had a bit more time at it. The band combines impeccable choices in covers, which are likely to be familiar but not that familiar (e.g., the title tune, a Stan Gardner/Frank Simon composition that was once a minor hit for Patsy Cline), with superb in-the-tradition originals. Tomblin, Reed, Volkaert, Brown, Arnold and Ball share lead vocal duties over the 14 cuts, and there's not one a shirker in the lot. At moments, Volkaert even sings uncannily like the late Hank Thompson, so much so that when I first heard "She Loves Anything That Swings" (a Volkaert original), I thought it was Hank Thompson.

Yes, the Lucky Tomblin Band keeps the grand old sounds swinging. It also serves, however, to remind fans of true country why the music still belongs in the bars and dance halls to which it has long been so perfectly suited. There's not a speck of museum dust in these grooves.

music review by
Jerome Clark

2 October 2010

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