As more traditional styles of country music are increasingly marginalized in the mainstream rush to incorporate pop, rock and even hip-hop sounds, the more I feel impelled to seek out independent artists. If Alabama’s Tim Culpepper had emerged 20 years ago he would have been on track to become a big star. Instead, he is on independent label HonkyTone Records.
The classic country stylings of his fine baritone voice (in the Frizzell/Haggard/Travis tradition) are ideally suited to the heartbreak-themed material here, most of it written by the record’s producer Elbert West, often with Culpepper’s assistance and that of other co-writers. Allied to West’s tasteful and pure country production, the result (recorded in Nashville with some excellent musicians) is a delightful contrast to most mainstream releases these days.
Opener ‘Ghost’ is a great song about dealing with reminders of a lost love. You can see a video for this song on youtube. In ‘Toss And Turn’ the protagonist’s wife has only just left, but the concrete reminders are as poignant:
There’ll be no more nights for me she’ll toss and turn
Cause she has tossed her ring on the table by the door
And took her turn to drive away while I walk the floor
Now I lie awake in the bed I made
On the pillow that once was hers
And between sheets cold as stone
I’ll toss and turn
Just as good, ‘One More For The Road’ bemoans the lot of a man seeking temporary refuge from a family he thinks don’t understand the dreary realities of his working day. Some time drinking in the company of an attractive young woman, with some George Jones on the jukebox, gives him a short respite before he heads home to real life.
The outstanding song on an excellent set is the title track, written by Culpepper and Jeanette Marie (who I think is his wife). A lonesome lament about trying to drinking one’s way out of heartache, and failing to do anything of the kind. Laden with pain, Culpepper’s full-bodied vocal really sells the song:
I got a box set of Hag, a three finger glass and a bottle of dark 90 proof t
To help chase away misery by drowning her memories
But still I can’t outdrink the truth
Cause when I reach the middle of that old black label
She’ll vanish without any trace
I hear the answer to problems are found in the bar room
Just a few swallows away
I’m pourin’ whiskey on pain
It’s just a matter of time
Before she’s back on my mind
Cause I know I’m to blame
For the trouble I’m in
I’m drinking doubles again
And it’s the same old routine
Disguising sorrow and shame
Pourin’ whiskey on pain
It might be a sequel to ‘When Misery Finds Company’, a brilliant cheating song:
If misery loves company she’ll find it here tonight
Where broken hearts reside on every sleeve
Somewhere she’s (they’re) doing someone wrong
But for now it feels right
It ain’t love and it’s not meant to be
When misery finds company
The chugging mid-tempo ‘Gettin’ On With Gettin’ Over You’ (the weakest track in the record’s first half) is more mundane lyrically (inevitable when the song deals with being stuck in a boring routine), but is pleasant enough listening. The album falls naturally into two halves. Five of the first half-dozen songs are exceptionally strong and withstand any comparison . The next seven are merely very good.
‘You Can’t Say That Again’ has a couple who have reached the brink of separation, and who know it’s too late to go back now. ‘The Storm’ has the protagonist awaiting the aftermath of a breakup. It feels quite topical at the moment but is not that memorable. In ‘Too Good Of A Day (To Say Goodbye)’, the protagonist bemoans the sunny weather and wryly wishes for rain or snow to properly represent the state of his mind on parting with his sweetheart.
‘Hangin’ On’ is a perky sounding response to having trouble getting completely over someone when,
I’m okay with the fact you’re gone
But your memory keeps hangin’ on
This enjoyable track is my favourite in the second half of the album.
‘His Old Boots’ is a slightly unconvincing and sentimental story song where a young man fails to appreciate the merits of his father, only to learn regret with time.
‘That’s When I’ll Stop’ promises a lover eternal devotion by comparing the chances of his love ending to various other improbable circumstances – not groundbreaking but mildly amusing and pleasant listening, and it was probably a good idea to include something positive amongst all the heartbreak. Similarly, ‘The One’ is a sweet love song about finding true happiness.
This album comes highly recommended for anyone who misses real country music on the radio. It’s widely available digitally, and the CD may be available at some places.