My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: Eric Strickland and the B Sides – ‘Honky Tonk Till I Die’

These days it seems easier to find excellent country records on independent labels than on major ones. North Carolina’s Eric Strickland and his band the B Sides produce tightly played solid honky-tonk music with a slight outlaw edge, which is highly enjoyable throughout. There is no fiddle, but plenty of steel. But what lifts their album above others of the kind is the excellent songwriting (all of which comes courtesy of lead singer and guitarist Strickland).

The title track is a defiant celebration of the joys of the honky-tonk life despite its health implications. ‘Standing In The Headlights’ is a fine and thoughtful song about the struggles of life as a musician, which has a lot of appeal:

Just cause I’m from nothing don’t mean I’m nothing

A small town boy with big town dreams

Chasin’ rainbows neath the neon

Ain’t as easy it seems

You put your heart into the music

You pour your soul into your songs

Then you realize they just don’t get it

And you’re out there all alone

‘My First Love’ is also good, with fond memories about growing up with the love of country music leading into a career as a musician. It leads into the hidden track ‘Drinking Whiskey’, a regretful steel-laced contemplation of a lost love, where drink doesn’t erase the memory.

The dark ‘Freedom’ is excellent, a steel-loaded, downbeat portrait of a man in the most intense despair, and on the verge of, perhaps, suicide:

He sits on the edge of a bed by the window watching the world go by

Nobody knows just how close he is to the end of his life

Holding a picture of a woman he loves in his shaking hands

He once quit drinking

But today he’s been thinking

About starting again

And it’s hard to keep on pretending

That the pain ain’t real any more

There’s just enough time to share all his feelings

Before freedom comes knocking on his door

He stares at the phone on the nightstand beside him

Wondering who he could call

But no one can help this fight with himself

So he throws it against the wall

He picks up a pen and writes her a letter

Explaining it all

There’ll be no more crying over all of her lying

Cause the hammer will soon fall

And it’s hard to keep on pretending

That the pain ain’t real any more

There’s just enough time to share all his feelings

Before freedom comes knocking on his door

Just as good is the outstanding ‘Haggard And Hell’, which with more agonized steel places the heartbroken protagonist at a crossroads.

While it is the least distinguished song here, ‘Her’ is an okay love song about a nice girl in love with a man who happily admits he is ‘tattooed white trash, I’m a real low-life’ – but can’t be as bad as he paints himself, given the unquestioning support of his loved one. The sardonic ‘Womankind’ has a more jaundiced approach verging on misogyny after the protagonist falls for a heartless beauty:

Woman, kind?

No, I don’t think so

She broke my heart and left me here to die

It’s not right, but she done me like she wants to

I’m sorry if I don’t believe in woman kind

I also enjoyed ‘Shine Down On Me’, with snatches of harmonica. The protagonist works a dead-end job for not much reward with no obvious end in sight, but retains an optimistic outlook on life.

There are a couple of trucking songs neatly sequenced together two-thirds of the way through the set list. ‘18 Wheels Of Hell On The Highway’ is fairly standard fare reminiscent of the genre’s 70’s heyday, but ‘The Day The Truckers Shut this Country Down’ is pretty good, championing the vital work of transporting goods across the US, with twangy, punchy lead guitar and supporting steel.

My only criticism is with the cheap packaging of the CD, which omits two songs (‘Standing In The Headlights’ and ‘Drinking Whiskey’) from the track listing (although the CD itself has a cool vinyl-effect image printed on it.

Sample the title track on youtube.

This excellent record is available digitally everywhere, with the CD available from CDBaby.

Grade: A

2 responses to “Album Review: Eric Strickland and the B Sides – ‘Honky Tonk Till I Die’

  1. Paul W Dennis January 5, 2013 at 9:12 am

    Spot On !

    A fine retro effort – the trucking songs are especially good (Dave Dudley, Dick Curless and Red Simpson would have been proud to sing “The Day The Truckers Shut this Country Down”)

    Obviously, this will never receive any radio airplay

  2. Chrissy February 4, 2013 at 9:34 am

    Eric Strickland is local where I live. I am a dedicated fan and love to hear him play every chance I get. He is a great friend. In my opinion, Eric and his band members are great musitians and I hope they keep on bringing us great country music!

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