What a delightful way to start the New Year! An Anglo-American album full of subtle hybrid strands of Americana music served up in a simple yet captivating style. An exiled Okie who defied the ‘go west’ call and settled in the eastern counties of southern England instead, Bob Collum returns to themes from his homeland for this superlative release. LITTLE ROCK may be the capital of the state neighbouring his beloved Oklahoma but it lends its name to the title of this 10-track album and the opening number which steers the record in a semi alt-country rock direction. However the true spiritual sound of the album centres round the gorgeous pedal steel courtesy of Allan Kelly.
Any further micro analysis of this record cannot go past a country duet of magnificent magnitude. Bob has worked with Marianne Hyatt on previous releases and together they have produced an ear catching number sparking marital chords around the land. ‘Good Thing We’re In Love’ is the only co-write on the record and rattles along in biting and cutting disunity, though forever thankful of the sanctity of the title. Positioning itself alongside the lofty perch of My Darling Clementine duets, this stand out song possess easily the best lyric for this and many a year ‘I do the jumping when you holler frog’. Another MDC link is the addition of Martin Belmont to the lengthy list of players joining the core of Bob’s band, wonderfully named The Welfare Mothers.
As indicated earlier, LITTLE ROCK develops its themes a long way from Essex, but the whole album is underpinned by that sound synonymous with London’s alt-country scene which from a personal viewpoint rarely seems to venture north. However the themes are generally solid American standards such as the Confederate flag in ‘Johnny Held ‘Em Down’ and the scarred backdrop of society in ‘Wasted Wonderland’. The sound ventures into folk territory with the telling of a true murder story ‘Locust Grove’, a topic that genre does rather effectively both sides of the Atlantic.
Queuing up behind the delightful duet in the leading track stakes are the strikingly impressive ‘Seven Kinds of Sorrow’ and the anthemic ‘Broken Down’. Either track would stand tall on more mortal albums and deserve wider platforms to be heard. Packed with pedal steel solos, rhythmic strumming and outbreaks of harmonica, the latter will have you humming long after the eject button has been reluctantly pressed. ‘Seven Kinds of Sorrow’ opens in stunning a Capella mode and once again demands intense lyrical recital after the exquisite organ kicks in, melting into the other fine examples of roots instrumentation.
Bob, who has clocked a few miles on the indie scene both sides of the Atlantic, has shared the stage with many respected US artists such as Dave Alvin, Alejandro Escovedo and Robert Earle Keen, all highly valued in the UK as well. Presently Bob is tied up with Harbour Song Records and it would be great if the album got promoted live around the country. Obviously integral to this would be Marianne who wrote and performed the track ‘Superdome’, a number wrapped in alt-indie sensibilities and is believed to be based on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. The only crime the last two songs, ‘The Great Unknown’ and ‘Empty Hands of Love’, commit is to be worthy runners up to the meatier efforts of LITTLE ROCK and both keep the album on track as it steers through the wide open spaces of the Americana landscape.
Making a New Year resolution to check out the work of Bob Collum and the Welfare Mothers is one of your easier January commitments and will definitely be a rewarding one. LITTLE ROCK is an album which won’t disappoint and that duet has got to be the final parting shot. Make sure by hook or by crook you check out ‘Good Thing We’re In Love’.