Album Review

The King and Queen of UK Country Head Off into the South

My Darling Clementine - Still Testifying

Still mining the rich vein of country duetting, My Darling Clementine have grown in stature since the release of their first album, How Do You Plead, back in 2011. Essentially a homage to the classic duets of George Jones and Tammy Wynette in the late '60s, the album led to them being named Americana Music Artist of the year at the British Country Music Awards in 2012. A second album and a successful collaboration with crime writer Mark Billingham on The Other Half (an album and stage show) have established the duo (Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish) as the current King and Queen of UK country music, and with Still Testifying, they further advance the charms and depth of their project.

Keen to avoid making the same type of album over and over King and Dalgleish have followed a path which was hinted at on "Our Race Is Run" (from second album, The Reconciliation) which was suffused with a Southern soul sound, brass and organ offering a sanctified Solomon Burke-like solemnity. As such, Still Testifying shifts from a Nashville based sound mirroring the shift in the late '60s that saw Music Row challenged by Memphis, Texas, and even Hollywood showbiz and hippies. With artists such as Elvis Presley, Dusty Springfield, Bobbie Gentry (and Lulu), getting down and dirty in Memphis, The Flying Burrito Brothers channeling a similar sound in LA (remember, they covered "Dark End Of The Street" on their first album), and even Bacharach and David getting in on the act with their score for Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, country was edging into pop, rock, and soul, and it’s this creative period that My Darling Clementine inhabits here.

They open the album with the barnstorming "The Embers And The Flame," which barrels in with a similar swirl as that of The Burritos’ "Christine’s Tune" before the horns add some Hollywood color. It’s the horns again that lift Dalgleish’s sorrowful tale of a couple trapped in love on "Just A Woman" (which incidentally reverses Wynette’s oft repeated apology for her man), with the pair crooning almost amidst a dreamy background that one would like to imagine was on the soundtrack for a Doris Day/Rock Hudson movie had they looked at real life instead of cotton candy pillow fluff. "Tear Stained Smile," meanwhile, employs some fat-sounding sax on a cheerful murder song which rolls along like Elvis in Vegas, while "There’s Nothing You Can Tell Me (That I Don’t Already Know)" has a cracking guitar riff over a sinewy rock beat that has Elvis In Memphis all over it along with some Tex Mex organ stylings. Here Dalgleish and King keenly observe the human condition and the mating technique with some finesse with lines such as “The groove on your third finger tells me you once had a wife.”

As it’s a My Darling Clementine album, there are several other songs which feature couples in or out of love or trying to make some sense of just what happened to them. "Friday Night, Tulip Hotel" is a wonderful waltz describing a sorrowful clandestine tryst that seems doomed to repeat itself until one day the man doesn’t turn up. Elsewhere, Dalgleish picks up the ongoing tale of Dolly Parton’s Jolene on "Jolene’s Story," offering the other side of the story.

Not all of the songs are stained with romance, however, as Dalgleish offers up the delicate "Eugene," inspired by an occasion when the band were on tour in Oregon, while King summons up the plight of isolated and stricken communities on "Two Lane Texaco." The closing "Shallow" abandons the band and finds the pair harmonising on a delightful song that, despite the earlier tales of loss and abandonment, tells of an undying love.

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Originally posted on Blabber'n'Smoke