CD Review: World Famous Headliners – S/T (Big Yellow Dog, 2012)
Leave it to ace songwriters – Big Al Anderson, Shawn Camp and Pat McLaughlin – to come up with an attention-getting, tongue-in-cheek name for their new group. All three are indeed world-famous, at least among those of who read songwriting credits, and Anderson is widely known, at least among a well-bred set of listeners, for his guitar slinging and lengthy tenure in NRBQ. All three have written Nashvillehits, co-written with rootsy outsiders, and had their songs covered by both mainstream and non-mainstream legends. Together with veteran players Michael Rhodes on bass and Greg Morrow on drums, the trio of songwriters steps up front for a set of country, rock, blues and soul originals whose eclecticism is not unlike the variety recorded by Anderson’s previous band.
The set opens at a Rockpile-styled canter with “Give Your Love to Me,” featuring call-and-response vocals and electric guitar solos; Morrow kicks off the subsequent “Mamarita” with a solid second-line beat that eases the band into the song’s New Orleansmood. 1950s balladry threads through several songs, but the modern touches, such as the bewitching bass vamp of “Heart of Gold,” keep the productions from turning retro. The vocalists often sing as a chorus, but there are solo turns that conjure the straight-shooting delivery of Waylon Jennings, with some yowling harmonies that suggest The Band. The group plays loping country soul, ala the Hacienda Brothers, and Cajun-spiced rockers that will remind you of David Lindley’s solo work.
The trio’s songs are as good as the band they’ve assembled, with catchy melodies, deep grooves, and lyrics that are both playful and thought-provoking. They write mostly of love’s pains and pleas, leavened with apology and elation, and couched in finely-crafted lyrics and clever rhymes that can be funny and sad at the same time. The band’s collective pulse, particularly on the mid-tempo R&B numbers, belies the five individual careers twined together for the first time. Their chemistry is the result of decades of complementary work that, in a just world, would actually lead to headlining gigs around the globe.