You don’t have to listen long to any country music with an ounce of heritage in it to come across a tune played in the old three-four time. The waltz has been an integral part of country music for as long as couples have been heading down to the honky tonk to dance away the troubles and woes of a rural life. So in an age where there are a significant number of performers still keeping the traditions alive, UK country legend Hank Wangford has raised the preservation stakes higher by dedicating a whole double album to the sound which he proudly implies as always been a differentiation marker between country and rock n’ roll.
To keep within a choice of moods, Hank has neatly packaged this mixture of originals and standards into, whether you’re up for a dose of melancholy or need a little ‘end of the day’ pick up. There is a school of thought which suggests only the former exists in true country music but occasionally we all deserve the optimism of ‘Save Me the Waltz’ or a trip to ‘Sin City’. It is fitting that Hank includes a version of the latter as Gram Parsons was credited as one of the artists to lead him into the arms of country music. For this album Hank chose a duet with Billy Bragg that was initially recorded a number of years ago and included on the B side of Bragg’s ‘Waiting for the Great Leap Forward.’
Of course enjoyment of this album will depend on your feelings towards the waltz but with covers of Willie Nelson, Louvin Brothers and George Jones songs, it defies country fans of any persuasion not to have a soft spot for this classic slowed down sound. In addition to timeless songs such as ‘Say It’s Not You’ by George Jones or the Willie Nelson penned ‘Permanently Lonely’, Hank, who has acquired cult alt-country status in his time, pays tribute to a more contemporary performer in Lucinda Williams with a fantastic version of ‘Concrete and Barbed Wire.’
Hank has contributed around half of this twenty-five track set with originals and for me there are three with particular stand out qualities. From ‘The Light’ disc ‘Sunk Without Trace’ and the album’s title track ‘Save Me The Waltz’ have a special quality about them to take their warranted place amongst the classics. Perhaps the finest of all Hank’s compositions included is the ultimate ‘giving up’ song ‘Lonely Together’ which proved a great sing along live number when Hank previewed this album with a duo show in Birmingham in February. This track anchors the final segment on ‘The Dark’ disc which also includes a Lennon/McCartney song ‘Baby’s In Black’ and another old Billy Bragg duet, this time on the Woody Guthrie song ‘Deportees’.
Hank’s long time band, The Lost Cowboys, make their presence felt on the record which was recorded in several locations, one including an old Telefunken microphone bought from the Abbey Road studios. Amongst the Lost Cowboys line up are UK pedal steel luminary BJ Cole and Martin Belmont who has recently been doing some stellar work with My Darling Clementine. However all tracks have benefitted from a lengthy list of contributors with Anna Robinson significantly stepping in with the Lucinda Williams vocal piece.
Review of Hank Wangford Birmingham show in February