Hank Wangford - Holey Holey
Sincere Sounds (Via Proper)
Hank Wangford has been like Marmite on the British country music scene for more than 40 years. A misunderstood enigma he has used his passion for down-home country music to build a career that seems to know no ending. His knowledge of the music is second-to-none. At 80 years old he has reined things in somewhat on this latest album as he takes a more reflective approach. Forsaking the hustle and bustle of his London home for the more sedate Connemara shore in Co. Galway this is an album that demands you shut your eyes and submit to the drift. Accompanied by his Lost Cowboys with some special guests, including Geraint Watkins (piano, organ, accordion) and Mairtin O’Connor (Irish button accordion), his musings are always tender and accessible, as quirky and warm as a well-worn Peter Skellern tape.
Choogling along with plenty of instrumental flourishes, the songs bring together country, folk, New Orleans boogie and gentle balladry for a timeless easy-going sound that feels simultaneously modern, making for a subtle contrast between different eras of music. Hank has spent most of his life wandering among both odd and ordinary characters, along the way he’s seen people at their most resilient and at their most vulnerable. These life experiences and travails colour each and every song here as he looks at the world in a gazing globe, what he sees is reality but distorted through his sagacious years of experiences.
Opener Perfect Day jogs along pleasantly and is full of gratitude for the past while reflecting over a romance that is sadly no more and reminding us that final moments can trigger new beginnings. Once Upon A Time glistens with a dark, yet childlike honesty, full of painful regret with a soulful Memphis arrangement utilising swirling organ, electric guitar and ethereal harmonies. It’s these simple, low-key flourishes that make the record. Note the spare yet vivid poetry of the lyrics to Hello My Friend, a fond final farewell to a mate who’s not been seen for some time. Hank’s conversational vocals work perfectly against the backdrop of subtly strummed guitar and the unruffled rhythm that reels you in to the sensitivity of the lyrics. A genuine delight is Uncle Joe with its lovable reminisce of growing up in a 1950s ‘left-wing’ family. The song’s luminous with lavishly recorded guitars, subtle touches of accordion and Hank’s harmonised vocals.
The title song playfully grapples with the low points of everyday existence, even when it’s conjuring mental images of a life full of holes. Light but heavy, warm in the sun, but shivery in the shade this features a country arrangement around BJ Cole’s pedal steel and Dobro. Two Stubborn People has echoes of classic Willie Nelson with its haunting harmonica, but there’s also a 1940s crooning vibe in Hank’s vocal delivery with Anna Robinson’s delicate duet vocal. Crystal ball gazing is what you get with Over The Horizon, as Hank blends the bright tones of sweet accordion with woozy folk-rock and a serious devotion to melancholy moodiness.
This is a solid set to mellow out with as good ol’ Hank gently delivers a collection of songs that has a uniform feel of compassion and positivity. His almost conversational style of lyricism however is the real standout of the record, as he makes every song feel direct and sharp.