The title of Steve Earle’s autobiography, “Hardcore Troubadour” always seemed to some up the sort of Country I like best.
The country of the dirt road, the working class, the hardworking, the hard living and the downright cheesed off. None of this “Stand By Your Man” malarkey. This be the country of the three-pack habit and the motel tan and it’s absolutely proud of itself.
I imagine the reprobates that make up The Vandoliers would approve.
From out of Fort Worth, they have all cut their teeth in a variety of bands from punk to rock to folk – all those elements are right here too in the 10 songs that make up “Forever”, although there’s enough violin and horn to keep just about everyone down the honky tonk happy too.
The opener “Miles And Miles” starts off like it’s down a line-dance, but it does contain this as an opening line: “my hometown’s where the wind stops, on the map it’s hard to find….” And Joshua Fleming not only has a knack for the evocative, but he’s also got one of the great weather-beaten voices for this stuff too.
“Troublemaker” seems to be the work of men who know how to do just that, but the horn section gives this an almost ska touch, while “All On Black” isn’t a million miles from the mega selling stuff that Blackberry Smoke might do, but again, the horns take this down to different places.
“Fallen Again” is almost Latin, while there is a deep-rooted sadness about its lyrics, “I am still breathin’ barely holding on to the end of my rope….” Seems to encapsulate the helplessness here, but this is a record that hides its misery behind extremely cheery sounding music. So it is that “Sixteen Years” mixes a stoicism with a real jaunty air, that really, honestly is Jersey Shore than Red Dirt Road.
This is a country band at heart, though. The utterly superb “Shoshone Rose” is like something Shooter Jennings would be proud to call his own and the lead work here from Dustin Fleming is tremendous. And if you wanted to neatly explain the record in three minutes, then I’d put forward “Bottom Dollar Boy”. It has roots in the greats but it does things in its own way too – and you suspect that’s the only way they wanted ever.
Although much of this is reflective, then the only time “Forever” gets to be balladic is “Cigarettes In The Rain” although tellingly that is followed up by “Nowhere” which, in honesty, is more Gaslight Anthem than George Jones. A proper rock n roll song, it is yet another example of how good the Vandoliers are.
“Tumbleweed” – rather like the opening line of the record – takes us straight into nowheresville, USA, and it has the sort of anthemic feel of The Cadillac Three, say.
That said, this isn’t ever supposed to be the same as one of those mega -selling acts, The Vandoliers are happier on the back roads where it’s real rather than the bright lights where it’s fake. “Forever” is their statement of lasting intent.