Roger Wallace / 5-56 – Gamla (Oslo, Norway)
Word has been reaching us from Austin for quite a while now about a young honky-tonker who writes terrific songs and has an impressive debut record (Hillbilly Heights, which came out in August on Texas Round-Up Records). With the number of live shows of a country persuasion having declined steadily in Oslo recently, the chance to see Roger Wallace was a highly anticipated event for those of us here who appreciate such opportunities.
Backing Wallace was a first-rate cast of Austin players: drummer Lisa Pankratz, guitarist Jim Stringer and bassist Brad Fordham — collectively dubbed the Austin Honky-Tonk Band, a slight play on Stringer’s own Austin Music Band (a name inspired by Pankratz’s comment that “there’s only one band in Austin, and everybody plays in it”).
To a certain extent, the strength of this band was also its shortcoming. Being involved with a number of different projects, they apparently had not taken time to develop a particular sound and a well-thought-out repertoire aside from the songs on Wallace’s album. On this night, the result was that at times the performance came over as somewhat ad-hoc and uninspired.
But that’s more a matter of there being room for improvement than a major quibble. Wallace’s original songs were delivered with confidence, stone-cold hard country that left little to be desired. The absence of fiddle and steel prompted the band to speed up some of the songs a little, creating a slightly more rockabilly sound than is evident on the record.
Also deserving mention was Norwegian western swing band 5-56 (named for an oil, not a phone number), which opened the show. Their set list included covers from the likes of Bob Wills and Hank Thompson, but most impressive were a few instrumental originals penned by guitarist and steel player Karsten Boe.
Backup singers the Tiffany Sisters were absolutely stunning when they stepped out front for a lead vocal turn on “Betcha My Heart”. Boe got another chance to showcase his skills toward the end of the night when he came back and joined Wallace & the Austin Honky-Tonk Band on one song.