Native Kentuckian Cliff Westfall’s country songs harken back to the clever and funny writing of Roger Miller and Tom T. Hall. And though he’s relocated to New York City, he’s recruited like-minded country music players as his backing band, ensuring there’s plenty of twang behind his humor and wordplay. Westfall lists Chuck Berry as his favorite songwriter, and he exhibits the same sort of attention to detail in his lyrics, choosing his words in parallel service of story, meter and rhyme. The album opens with the honkytonk of “It Hurts Her to Hurt Me,” as Westfall tends to his romantic wounds with a self-delusional salve. He’s a relationship pragmatist, staring past criticism, content to be Mr. Right Now until Mr. Right comes along and he’s pushed out of the picture. The chugging “Off the Wagon” surveys a dysfunctional relationship whose blurry attraction wears off along with the booze and pills, and runs out with a lengthy, twangy instrumental.
Westfall’s protagonists have the self-awareness to know they’re playing the doormat. They expect to be left behind, and only occasionally think of their own feelings, as one realizes “more and more I love you less and less.” They suffer lies, wait for the other shoe to drop, and wallow in self-deception to avoid thinking about what they really believe to be inevitable. The romantic powerlessness and emotional resignation of the album’s lone cover, “Hangin’ On,” fits perfectly with the originals, and the use of pedal steel in place of the Gosdin Brothers’ acoustic guitar underscores the broken will of the lyrics. Bryce Goggin and Graham Norwood’s production is clean, but not so modern that it loses the spirits that inspire Westfall’s writing, and the assembled players offer up everything from honkytonk twang to the jazzy turn of “Sweet Tooth.” Fans of Rodney Crowell, Dwight Yoakam, Moot Davis, and the Derailers should take this out for a spin. [©2018 Hyperbolium]