Album review: THE WESTERN SIZZLERS – For Ol’ Times Sake

Roar Hide Records [Release date: 20.05.13]

‘Unfinished Business’, the penultimate track on The Western Sizzlers ‘For Ol’ Times Sake’, neatly summarises self exiled British musical maverick Kevin Jennings’s situation. A former catalyst for the Georgia Satellites (he got them signed up in the UK) and briefly the manager of the Black Crowes (though that was subject to a legal challenge), he is a southern roots rocker at heart in search of a vehicle for his songs.

He’s a mover and shaker whose musical pedigree also includes Jason & The Scorchers, The Stray Cats and Kris Kristofferson. The question is how to bottle the genie?  The country rock opener ‘One More Beer’ sets the standard for some fine rocking and wry lyrics on 11 self penned country roots rockers and one cover.

‘For Ol’ Times Sake’ is shot though with sledgehammer riffs and Nashville yearning, all loosely shaped by various guests including Charlie Starr from Blackberry Smoke, bassist Jeff Bakos (Jason & The Scorchers) and Georgia Satellites guitarist Rick Richards.

The band’s name apparently came from an early 80’s Satellites Monday night residency in Atlanta, where guitarist Rick Richards spontaneously christened the band. The name didn’t stick, but whether by design or alcohol fuelled creativity it struck the perfect balance between country and rock, pre-dating what was to become alt. country and the perfect choice for this crossover project.

The Western Sizzlers aren’t so much a lo-fi, garage combo as country tinged, bar room rockers with a live in the studio feel. 3 decades on from their famous residency and one song in, you could be forgiven for thinking the sizzling, slide-led rocker ‘Keep Smiling’ was a previously undiscovered Georgia Satellites outtake. The band launch into it with juggernaut intensity, up in the mix vocals and distorted slide.

Jennings is back to relive his own musical dream with the very same country inflected southern rock crossover that turned an antiquated musical genre into something almost hip. Charlie adds booming vocals, southern twang and evocative phrasing to match the band’s musical acumen on an album that alternates between pedal to the floor rocking and heartfelt country songs with a humorous twist.

Both the blistering ‘I’ll Die A Happy Man If It Kills Me’ and the Keith Richard meets Chuck Berry style riff rocker ‘The Lions Cage’ could easily have come from a Satellites album, though there’s more musical variety and delicate instrumentation in the mix.

Kevin’s intuitive grasp of the link between country roots, southern rock and its distant three chord boogie cousin is also evidenced by his spirited rendition of Quo’s ‘Breaking The Rules’.

But if it’s bar room rocking that fires this hugely enjoyable rough-hewn album,Jennings’s humorous narratives go a long way to making some recycled country a lot more palatable. Southern rock fans will warm to the guitar-driven rockers on a well paced album with thoughtful sequencing. The self penned roots rock dips in and out of its country music antecedents but is never dominated by it.

‘Cant Win For Losing’ rejoices in the chorus of :’ I’ve got 3 ex wives and 4 children’ with the kind of alt. country feel so adroitly mined by Jason & the Scorchers, while the humorous unreconstructed country song ‘Sugar Pie’ is full of confident harmonies, an aching dobro and banjo.  ‘Shine’ is a ragged but melodic cowboy style love song, not too far removed from the pedal steel and slide guitar of the poignant ‘Unfinished Business’. In between there’s the early Beatles influenced ‘One Day Closer To Crazy’ and the harp-led rockabilly of ‘The Last Straw’, which suggest that whatever the musical expectations Kevin will always find a way to subvert them

‘For Ol’ Times Sake’ is the perfect title for an album that glances back over its shoulder to the halcyon days of pre-corporate independent southern rock and alt. country. It’s that combination of bar room boogie and a batch of impressive songs that make this an album well worth checking out. **** (4/5)

Review by Pete Feenstra


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