The Lucky Tomblin Band,
Red Hot from Blue Rock
(Texas World, 2007)

If you like honkytonk swing from Texas -- where it was more or less invented, though you'd have to credit Oklahoma, too -- a Lucky Tomblin Band record is the solution to your problem. Your problem, and mine, is that you don't hear this sort of thing on commercial "country" radio these days, except perhaps in the softly romantic form in which George Strait has trafficked for years.

Honkytonk swing, of course, is a direct descendant of Western swing, but played by smaller, harder-rockin' bands, absorbing edgier strains of blues, jazz and hillbilly. (The stripped-down sound was as much a consequence of economic reality as of changing fashion; at a certain point, it was no longer feasible to haul big bands -- and carry big payrolls -- around.) As honkytonk outgrew its Southwestern base to become a national music in the years after World War II, it started getting called "country." (Rock 'n' roll was the inevitable next evolutionary development.) These days "country" seems to have barely any meaning anymore, thrown at folk singers, guitar-rock bands and pop balladeers, but once upon a time nobody ever mistook country music for anything else. Red Hot from Blue Rock is a country record.

The Lucky Tomblin Band (whose previous release, In a Honky-Tonk Mood, I reviewed in this space on 20 May 2006) is Tomblin, a veteran vocalist on the Texas-music circuit, along with six participating instrumentalists (all but drummer Jon Hahn sharing lead vocals), whose ranks include such luminaries as Redd Volkaert, who played lead electric guitar in Merle Haggard's splendid Strangers band for years, and Earl Poole Ball, who's been a country piano player for just about everybody at one time or another. This sort of music really is meant to be performed and heard live in a beer joint with a good hardwood dance floor, but this outfit also happens to be a bunch of seasoned pros who know their way around a recording studio.

Most of the songs here are from the repertories of Bob Wills, Hank Snow, Webb Pierce and Hank Williams, not to mention Jerry Lee Lewis and rockabilly one-hit wonder Buddy Knox (the infectious, weirdly unforgettable "Party Doll," which hit No. 1 in 1957). This time around, a handful of originals grace the playlist. My favorite is bass player Sarah Brown's witty, double-entendre-drenched "Don't Forget to Dip the Girl" (written with Rosie Flores), perhaps reflecting Brown's background in blues, where the words nearly always mean something else -- specifically, something unspoken of in polite society, and all the more fun because of it.

The package contains a second disc, a DVD of band interviews and studio performances. It confirms what you've likely already inferred from the audio disc: that these are friendly, acutely talented people having a hell of a good time.

review by
Jerome Clark

29 September 2007

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