Having reviewed several new album releases for this blog over the last twelve months, I have encountered many artists whose music can be identified as ‘alt-country.’ And while I naturally gravitate to a genre that shares such characteristics, every now and then, I really want to hear something that is less ‘alternative’ and more ‘pure’ country music. I am not really a fan of the current pop(ular) country music scene, although feel that the resurgence that took place in the 1990s (the last generation of country music to which I became attached) successfully thrust the genre into the mainstream. Growing up in the 1970s, traditional country music from the 50s and 60s was etched into my musical psyche long before I could verbalize my appreciation.
Even as true country music became diluted over time, you could always find artists who successfully fused their own compositions with the traditional sound (such as The Tractors and Junior Brown during the 90s era, for instance). If modern country is no longer country, and alt-country is the new country, then where can I possibly find new ‘old’ country? The answer to this conundrum has arrived, courtesy of Sean Burns and LOST COUNTRY, whose brand new “Music For Taverns, Bars and Honky Tonks” album (released today) is exactly what I’ve been holding out for.
Hailing from Winnipeg, MB, singer/songwriter Sean Burns is a seasoned and well-traveled performer, whose music combines folk, country and blues. With this new release, Sean pays homage to the traditional sounds of ‘old’ Nashville, offering some good old-fashioned foot-tapping numbers that embrace a distinct honkytonk sound. Inspired by country legends such as Ray Price, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and Johnny Bush, the recording was split between both Manitoba and Tennessee, therefore cross-pollinating that old sound with a splash of Canadiana. Indeed, for Sean, “Music For Taverns, Bars and Honky Tonks is not a purposeful attempt to sound ‘vintage,’ it’s simply what I’ve always wanted to do, traditional country music.”
Having spent a few days listening to the eleven tracks on offer here, Sean Burns has successfully accomplished his goal. Surrounding himself with a stellar group of musicians, “Music For Taverns, Bars and Honky Tonks” perfectly taps into the sound and vibe of the traditional country sound, yet does so without sounding forced or clichéd. The album offers plenty of diversity within this genre too, giving this one much more appeal to fans of both traditional and contemporary country music. With plenty of pedal steel and guitar twang, tracks such as “Harold’s Super Service” and “Lonesome Again” are perfect throwbacks to that old sound, while “One More Kick At The Can” and “Have You Seen That Train” have an up-tempo pace that will resonate with the line dancers out there.
With “My Old Self,” Burns craftily unites both generations, fusing the old sound with a much more contemporary delivery. From the opening lines alone, my initial thoughts were that this one shared the signature West Coast sound of Buck Owens and the vocal delivery of Dwight Yoakam; part “Streets of Bakersfield,” part “ I Sang Dixie,” and with a hint of “Heartaches By The Number” thrown in for good measure. Factor in the message of this particular track, and all of the necessary boxes to create a bona-fide country original have been checked. Indeed, Burns offers that, “My Old Self is a story of a fella who has over-indulged and is coming to terms with it…admitting his indiscretions and defeating the demons.”
Balancing old and new country, some blues, rockabilly and honky-tonk too, the cross-generational appeal of this album made it very difficult to select one track that stands out from the crowd here. However, with “Farewell Parties,” Burns delivers a true country ballad, with enough pedal steel and deliberate slow pace to emphasize the heartbreaking circumstances of this number. Winning over your sympathies from the start with his woes, Sean flips such sentiments with ease during the chorus, adding the humorous line, “She’s throwing farewell parties, but I haven’t even left;” further demonstrating his uncanny ability to break down boundaries between traditional and contemporary country music. If you are longing for a refreshing and enjoyable tribute to the sounds of Nashville’s yesteryear, “Music for Taverns, Bars and Honky Tonks” certainly has the necessary ingredients for such escapism. Highly recommended.