Thursday, 4 October 2018

ALBUM REVIEW: Bob Collum and the Welfare Mothers - Pay Pack and Carry: Harbour Song Records (Out on 5th October 2018)

It is nearly four years ago since Bob Collum brushed away any New Year blues with the release of a record that eventually travelled a long way down the 2015 musical highway.  Now as the nights draw in and 2018 hurtles towards its conclusion, the follow up to the excellent LITTLE ROCK is unveiled for all to hear, complete with a spring in its step to placate any detrimental season change. PAY PACK AND CARRY still carries the moniker of the Welfare Mothers as the backing band and resumes Bob Collum’s stature as the architect of some exceedingly infectious music.

Terms such as pub rock, power pop, alt country and exiled Americana can be tossed around and still carry a resemblance of accuracy whichever angle you choose to approach this album from. Ultimately, Bob Collum, and whoever nestles comfortably within the Welfare Mother family, makes music that sinks deep into your psyche and retains an instinct to refuse to budge from your immediate horizon. In other words, the challenge is to let a satisfactory smile leave your face when this album gets its umpteenth play. A tough one given the ingrained appeal.

Plenty of fiddle and steel ensures that an element of countrification remains in focus, albeit definitely from an alternative perspective. Many of the tracks do not refrain from a good rinsing of pop sentiment, albeit from a bygone age where trends were not subject to the chase and quite simply - good songs became popular.

Just pitching gems like sumptuous album opener ‘Across a Crowded Room’, serious standout candidate ‘Catherine Row’ and infectious title track ‘Pay Pack and Carry’ against classic covers of Michael Nesmith’s ‘Different Drum’ and the Incredible String Band’s ‘Log Cabin Home in the Sky’ ratchet up the song writing acumen of Collum. Whatever your view on covers, you cannot deny the value they add here and a humble touch from the press blurb suggests they keep an artist in check from running rampant with self-absorption.

Also by reigning in the content, the album exudes a compact feel with each of the ten tracks playing an important part in maintaining momentum. You gain the impression that the music flows devoid of complication and this aids the ease of listening. Indeed the whole clarity fa├žade embeds into the listening experience that mixes the explicitly detected American twang of Tulsa born Collum with a good ole British pub rock sound.

Back in 2015, it was the classic duet ‘Good Thing We’re in Love’ that hooked me into the work of Bob Collum. This time the highs were more evenly spread, to the extent that it did take a few spins to get the fires stoked. Once up and running, the bandwagon of PAY PACK AND CARRY rose through the gear changes ensuring tracks such as ‘Mr McGhee’, ‘Tin Can Telephone’ and ‘Blue Sky Rain’ assumed a similar mantle to those tracks eulogised about earlier.

At this stage, it would be remiss to omit ‘Scarecrow’ and ‘Hey Blue’ as they are integral parts in keeping the toe-tapping feel to this record rolling along. Indeed, there need not be an anointed highlight as the true reward has been to keep this record on heavy rotation without any remnants of weariness surfacing.

Between albums, it is a relatively low-key existence for Bob Collum and the Welfare Mothers in my world, briefly punctuated by a Maverick Festival appearance in 2015. However, this compensates greatly when the album release cycle delivers. Who knows what 2019 will bring, but one certainty is that PAY PACK AND CARRY will not be filed away too deeply and is a good 'go to' when you want a slice of uncomplicated sophistication in your listening repertoire.

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