Hee Haw! Yep, that's what Laura Benitez & The Heartache bring to mind. Bakersfield. West Coast Country. Jimmy Rivers. Buck and the boys. Today, artists like Dave Gleason and Grant Langston, when they're feeling it. There are a handful of artists, in fact, keeping the sound alive. It's country with a rock and roll backbeat. When done right, it can put your knickers in a knot.
When I listen to Heartless Woman with eyes closed, I see cowboys and the early '60s equivalent of cowgirls scooting across the dance floor, the guys in their cowboy accoutrements -- boots, hat, and shirt -- and the ladies in blouses with just-above-the-knee skirts, poofed out to show those legs, the hairdos a slight variation of the Dale Evans 'do in her early years -- short, styled -- hair to give Trigger a run for his or her money. (Back in those days, I never thought of horses in terms of gender, so I really have no idea.) Those were the days of my youth, the days of country dancing to balance the crying in the beer.
I hear it all over this album. Benitez and crew serve up an outstanding lot of danceable tunes, all original but all reeking of the glory days of the West Coast honky-tonks, better known in my home state of Oregon as taverns and bars. I hear this music and I automatically think, "The two-step lives!" This is the music I heard as a child, coming from the open doors of venues such as The Frontier Room and Miller's Cave on Friday and Saturday nights, while sneaking a peek of the dancers, who were sliding around the floor in rhythm with the music before some old coot would stick his head out and say, “Beat it, kid!” Before the dancing gave way to drinking and fighting and the music changed. Before I hit puberty.
Benitez conjures up visions of the past, from the hip, two-stepping beat of “Good Love” and “Heartless Woman” to the smooth, fox-trotting rhythm of the semi-'50s and '60s-sounding “I Know You're Bad,” to the waltzing beauty of “Sweet Green Eyes.” They channel the best of that which made the old hometown tick musically back then. Before you say it must be rehash, let me assure you that it is not. It is original, as good as it got and as good as it gets.
It is no wonder that The Heartache found Ms. Benitez. The lady has a way with the music and lyrics. The best, in this instance, probably found one another. The band is as good as the songs and that says something. It is really not modern country. It is retro country, hearkening to the likes of George Jones and Hank Thompson and Wanda Jackson, and so many of the artists who helped hillbilly music morph into country & western. I dig this. A lot.
You know what, though? This is so good you don't have to dance to it to get it. It is music the way it is meant to be written and performed, whether you dance to it or not. I give it a solid 98.
P.S. Ian Taylor Sutton? That dude makes the pedal steel sing! Seriously.