Thursday, October 16, 2008

TERRELL'S TUNE-UP: UNADULTERATED HEARTACHE

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
Octobber 17, 2008


Warning: Between the Whiskey and the Wine by Miss Leslie is unadulterated hard-core, heartache honky-tonk music. Don’t look for irony. Don’t look for hipster detachment. This is real emotion. Nothing cute here. This is the sacred ground where Tammy Wynette and Kitty Wells have tread. Yuppie slummers, get packing.

Leslie Anne Sloan’s clear, intense voice just stops you in your tracks. Unlike many female country singers, there’s nothing sugary, flirty, or kittenish about Miss Leslie’s voice. She enunciates every word and sings with a power that lets you know she means every word that leaves her lips.

The liner notes let you know that this is a very personal album. According to one of Leslie’s hometown papers, the Houston Press, the singer went through a “rough divorce” (are there any easy ones?) since her previous album. The songs here — every one an original — deal with her struggles with alcohol and coping with the divorce. Archetypal country fare to be sure, but nothing on this album sounds like a cliché.

“This album is about a journey I started several years ago — a journey toward finding myself and living that person without apologies,” she writes in the CD’s booklet. “This album is mainly for anyone who has lost themselves — and ever tried to find themselves in something else — whether it was a bottle, another person, or a song.”

While Leslie’s earlier records — Honky Tonk Revival and the live Honky Tonk Happy Hour — are good authentic Texas country stompers, neither has the emotional punch of Between the Whiskey and the Wine. When she sings lines like, “So keep pouring drinks until I can’t remember/ Cause that’s the only way I know I’m bound to heal” (on “I Can Still Feel”) or “A shot of Makers on my left, a glass of red on my right and somewhere in the middle you’ll find me” in the title song, you get the feeling she knows what she’s talking about.

Even on upbeat songs with hints of humor, like “Honky Tonk Hangover” (“My head is sore, I smell like beer/And all my money is gone”), there’s a troubling aura of truth that gives a troubling aura of truth that give the songs an edge.

Adding power to Leslie’s music is her band, a bunch of two-step studs known as Her Juke-Jointers. The steel guitar of Ricky Davis (who has played in the bands of Dale Watson, Gary P. Nunn, The Derailers, and Asleep at the Wheel) and the fiddle, played by Leslie herself, drive the sound. Rounding out the Juke-Jointers are Ric Ramirez on upright bass (he’s served time with Wayne “The Train” Hancock) and Timmy Campbell on drums.

After a dozen heartbreakers, the last song on the record, “Love Will Find You,” is like a ray of hope. Leslie sings it with just as much conviction as she does her woozy, boozy laments.

Also recommended:

*Dirt Don’t Hurt by Holly Golightly and The Brokeoffs. OK, I’m not completely down on ironic, hipster takes on country music.

This lady is probably doomed to be best known for singing, “I love Jack White like a little brother,” in her funny little cameo on The White Stripes’ novelty song, “It’s True That We Love One Another.”

But there’s a reason The Stripes would want Holly on their album. Though not that well known in the States, she has released about a dozen solo albums, plus a couple of live recordings, since the early ’90s. She’s also done a couple of duet albums with British garage band guru Billy Childish. She began her career with a Childish offshoot, Thee Headcoatees, a not-so-slightly deranged garage/punk take on the girl-group sound. (The group did funny odes to Jackie Chan, Davy Crockett, and Santa Claus.)

And yes, “Holly Golightly” is her real name — Holly Golightly Smith, to be exact — even though some assume she lifted it from the character in Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Her latest album — the second released under the name Holly Golightly and The Brokeoffs — is a bluesy country romp with a jug-band spirit. The first album under that name was last year’s You Can’t Buy a Gun When You’re Crying.

Dirt Don’t Hurt was recorded in five days in Spain. Holly sings and plays guitar and banjo, while “The Brokeoffs” — actually her longtime sidekick “Lawyer Dave” Drake — sings and plays several stringed and percussion instruments. He gets a solo spotlight on the blues-drenched “Cora.”

One of the coolest songs here is a barnyard meditation called “Cluck Old Hen,” which is, in fact, about a female chicken. “Kick and squall, cackle and strut/I think everyone hates her guts.”

Holly and Dave get nice and spooky on the minor-key “Burn Your Fun,” which warns of religious fanatics taking over. “Better run, better run, better burn your fun/Preacher man’s comin’ for you.”

Religion’s on their minds on another tune, “Gettin’ High for Jesus” (”I’m gettin’ high for Jesus, cause He got so low for me”) featuring a squawking harmonica and tremolo guitar.

By far the prettiest tune on the album, and indeed, one of the most gorgeous country melodies I’ve heard in years, is “Up Off the Floor,” a slow waltz that reminds me a lot of “Tennessee Blues” by Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge.

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