Lonesome Brothers – Not on’ry and mean, either
You can’t rush greatness. After 11 years of playing together, the Lonesome Brothers finally got around to recording an album. Their self-titled debut on Tar Hut Records is a big ol’ slab of classic rock, pop and country, all rolled into one.
Guitarist Jim Armenti and bassist Ray Mason had been playing music in various local bands long before Mason joined Armenti’s old band for a two-year stretch of Tuesday night gigs. Some time around 1983-84, the two started performing as a duo. In 1986, with the addition of drummer Bob Grant, the Lonesome Brothers were born.
Blessed with two gifted songwriters and vocalists, the Lonesome Brothers turn musical corners with an impressive ease that can come only from years of playing together. “I Need a Second Chance” is a song that would do Junior Brown proud, its chorus neatly summing things up: “The open door is closing/And I haven’t learned my lesson/So I need a second chance/To make a better first impression.” Another of the disc’s highlights is Armenti’s “Down By The Water”, previously recorded by his old friend Cheri Knight on her 1995 album The Knitter (on which Mason played bassist). In fact, Armenti and Mason both have been quite active outside the band over the years. Mason has released a couple of solo albums, and Armenti plays clarinet in a klezmer band.
When I mention to Armenti that I hear a John Fogerty influence in his stuff, he says, “Well, I wouldn’t think I’d ever want to imitate him, but yeah, a cover band I used to be in did a few of his things.” Mason is quick to throw lots of other names into the pantheon of artists they admire. “Jim and I have a lot of the same influences: the Beatles, Hank Williams, Brian Wilson, John Prine, Dylan, The Band…god, those voices were so great…Buffalo Springfield was a great band. NRBQ. The list goes on…”
The album, recorded in three days at what Armenti calls “a thrown-together studio” in producer Jim Weeks’ apartment, touches on a little bit of everything. Ace pedal steel and dobro player Doug Beaumier helps elevate the already solid tunes to another plateau with his tasteful playing. The album’s leadoff track, “Eyes Wide Open”, is a weepy, bittersweet number; by contrast, “Three Sisters” and “Red House” rock like the dickens, Armenti’s guitar adding plenty of finesse and punch to the mix. “J. Mascis [Mr. Dinosaur Jr.] sat in with the Lonesomes one night,” Mason comments, and with barnburners like those two songs, it’s easy to understand why he’d want to share the stage.