The Lucky Tomblin Band,
In a Honky-Tonk Mood
(Texas World, 2006)

To those of us who grew up in another era, the phrase "country music" conjures up images and sounds like few emanating from Nashville's song factory these days. I'm sure we've grown into bores on the subject, in the manner of those old geezers who would annoy us in our youth with their tedious insistence that everything used to be better.

I am no sentimentalist -- I have read too much, and my memory is too good, to fall into that trap -- but yes, country music was better in those days. Yeah, yeah, sure, a lot of it was crap; Sturgeon's law (that 95 percent of everything is crap) applies to traditional country as to everything else. But the good stuff -- examples of which Lucky Tomblin's splendid Texas honkytonk band revives here -- amounts to a body of song as worthy of inclusion in the American Songbook as any pop standard or hoary folk ballad.

Hard-core fans, including me, tend to think of "country" and "honkytonk" as synonymous, denoting a genre that flourished over roughly the quarter-century that followed the end of World War II. That music was as much Southwestern as Southern, a product of social and economic circumstances, everything from the Texas/Oklahoma oil boom to changing sexual mores to the financial difficulty of sustaining the big Western swing bands that had dominated the region's popular music in the 1930s. Out of all of that came a vernacular dance music played by stripped-down groups that fused strains of swing, folk, blues, pop and -- soon -- rockabilly. Simple and direct, the songs spoke to good times and bad, to love, adultery, romantic conflict, heartbreak and, of course, alcohol.

Members of the Lucky Tomblin Band have been playing this stuff all of their lives, and it shows. Lead guitarist Redd Volkaert and pianist Earl Poole Ball, who have performed in studios and stages with an impressive range of major artists (including Johnny Cash, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Ray Price, the Byrds and more), join forces with veteran Texas honkytonk singer Tomblin, blues-bred vocalist Sarah Brown (who doubles on bass), guitarist/singer John Reed, drummer Jon Hahn and rhythm guitarist Bobby Arnold. Their choice of material is just about perfect -- familiar but not overdone songs associated with such golden-age performers as Price, Hank Thompson, Moon Mullican, Floyd Tillman and Johnny Horton.

This is social music, meant for dance halls and bars but entertaining nonetheless in any circumstance or environment. Bristling with infectious, like-they-used-to shuffle beats, In a Honky-Tonk Mood is a 43-minute excursion into honkytonk heaven.

by Jerome Clark
20 May 2006

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