Call it a twin headed or double barrelled approach, the latest release by Alan Tyler is a timely reminder that folk n’ country is predominantly about the strength of the song. The split personality of this new album by the Rockingbirds frontman, under the banner of The ALAN TYLER SHOW, puts a very English slant on a genre born from rural surroundings, but having a distinctly urban presence on this record. In a nutshell, the playing time is shared equally between five original recordings and five timeless classics that will resonate with every genuine country fan.
Amidst a period where 90’s cult alt-country rockers The Rockingbirds are in an interim stage between comeback albums, Alan has teamed up with Patrick Ralla (guitar, banjo) and Jim Morrison (fiddle, mandolin) to orchestrate a bunch of songs set to be the centre-piece of his summer tour dates. These songs possess a raw elegance initiated by a dry vocal delivery pouring an element of industrial soul especially on the originals. The self-composed numbers are threaded by a river song concept and are both implicitly and explicitly woven around a watery theme originating in the vicinity of Alan’s home location. All five of these songs contain a poetic resonance to their make-up and are generally tilted towards a folk style take on storytelling.
The first three, ‘Dark River’, ‘Down on Deptford Creek’ and ‘Essex Girl’, are intently unglamorous, profoundly descriptive and desirably gritty. The images and sentiment may be driven from a specific locality, but the message and tone transcends effortlessly around similar landscapes in other parts of the country. Sporadic harmonica blowing, location namedropping and a fascinating lyrical listening experience link the three named songs which to a certain extent exist in an alternative context to country music. However the synergy of similarity lies within the spirit and this entwines further with the straight up country sounding ‘Long Time No See’ and the fiddle inspired roots effort ‘The Field Beneath’. The former of these two tracks is probably the pick of the album’s first half on the back of its melody, but the strength of this quintet makes it a close call.
The latter half of the album, where Alan retains a similar song delivery to interpret a number of country classics, has little doubt where the highlight exists. ‘Return of the Grievous Angel’ is one of the greatest country songs of all time and is an integral part of the spirit of Gram Parsons flickering brightly forty years after his sad demise. Alan’s version does nothing but pay the ultimate respect to the song knowing full well that any interpreter of its magnificence will always be subservient to the superb lyrical structure and melody. ‘She Thinks I Still Care’ is resolutely synonymous with George Jones and comparative versions should be generally void of analysis, but within the context of this album, Alan’s version sits pretty and retains an element of a home grown stamp. Townes Van Zandt’s classic ‘Tecumseh Valley’ is a welcome cover version on any album and ‘The Streets of Baltimore’ has been recorded so many times that another take merely re-enforces its popularity. ‘True Love Ways’, the album’s closing track and fifth cover, probably trails the other four in effect and in these quarters warrants a sweeter interpretation.