It was Neil Young who sang “Homegrown is the way it should be. Homegrown is a good thing. Plant that bell and let it ring.” Old Neil might have been singing about something else altogether (answers on a postcard!) but it’s gratifying to find that there’s a good deal of homegrown bands and songsters in the best wee nation in the world who can take on Americana type music and deliver their own take on it with a degree of authenticity but more importantly portraying their feeling and affection for the genre.
Bands such as The Wyntown Marshals, Dropkick, The Ballchulish Hellhounds and the late lamented Southpaw are all fine examples of Scots bands who can deliver the real thing and the list can be expanded almost ad infinitum if one looks at the likes of Teenage Fanclub and The Vaselines who exported the proverbial coals to Newcastle.
Old Dollar Bill are a grand addition to the local canon of Scots combos who can summon up a genuine feel for American music. In their case it’s old time good time stringband hoe-downs and rollicking country songs. Their debut album was as fine a piece of Scots Americana as we’ve heard in a long time and now on their second release Lucky From Kentucky they consolidate their sound, relying less on their undoubted instrumental prowess with the inclusion of several fine songs that broaden their appeal.
Comprised of Stephen Clark (guitar, mandolin, banjo and Dobro) and Ed Henry (Cajon, drums and percussion) (supplemented by Edinburgh musicians Martyn McQuade on double bass, Neil Pearlman, piano, Tom McAweaney, fiddle, Owen McAlpine, harmonica and Gill Swan, harmony vocals on various cuts) Old Dollar Bill cut a fine cloth with ten songs all self written that range from the swamp blues of My Love She Did Wear A Disguise to the triumphant closing good time swing of Lucky From Kentucky.
My Love she Did Wear A Disguise is a great opener with Clark snarling a tale of betrayal that cleaves to a folk tradition but with the menacing Dobro and clattering percussion relocates it to a swamp ridden murky voodoo land. One More Shot To Kill The Pain is a straightforward country stomp with fine harp and piano playing with the lyrics appearing to portray a typical Edinburgh bar although there’s no hard drinking “Rebus” type detective propping up the bar along with the unemployed graduate and the war veteran. The Man With The Hurtin’ Smile slinks along gracefully with some nice Dobro and mandolin fills while McQuade’s bass burbles along nicely. Henry takes over the vocals on the heartworn tale of a John fleeced by a pretty girl and excusing her as he says “I see the pain in her eyes/where she’s cut off social ties/she doesn’t look too well/she’s living in her own little hell.” This is a great little song with expressive harmonica, intricate percussion and excellent guitar, Dobro and mandolin; it’s reminiscent of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band circa Hollywood Dream which is no bad thing.
The Place is another roustabout country ditty while Hey Y’all plants the fiddle firmly in the foreground for what is a fiercely danceable hoe-down. Clark returns to the fore vocally on the fine This Feeling with his mandolin propelling the band as Henry’s percussion adds to the drive. The Last Good Time is a departure of sorts for the band as they rein in the toe tapping vibes and deliver an emotive ballad that has rippling piano and female harmony vocals. It comes across almost like a Bruce Cockburn type song, plaintive and affecting it sounds great here. Home Lovin’ Man which follows seems to be another attempt to add an extra dimension to the band. A pared back stumble with emotive harmonica it has a fine lazy feel but the intrusive finger clicks that feature throughout are somewhat distracting. They close the album with the title song (aided and abetted by Woody Pines and members of The Wilders). Lucky From Kentucky is a barnstorming closer that must go down a storm live with its opportunities for the singers and instrumentalists to add to the energy that is already present on the recorded version. Old Dollar Bill play regularly in the drinking dens of Edinburgh and on the strength of this should be seen well before any ghost tours.
Originally posted on Blabber'n'Smoke