Hank Wangford & Noel Dashwood - Promises, Promises
This duet album by British country music treasure Hank Wangford and Dobro maestro Noel Dashwood is music from a different world, guided by rules and sensibilities that have started to fade from our range of vision. It’s a record that time and fashion cannot touch. The recordings feature little more than Hank’s honeyed voice and Noel’s bluesy guitar. But that simplicity, and vulnerability, makes them special. In each case, even the sparest settings are fueled with the pair’s innate, yet casual exuberance, basking in the pure joy that comes with making music from a decidedly traditional template. Countrified talking blues, oddball country-folk, delicate romantic odes, and black humour, with some erudite philosophy about life, are all tossed into the pot. Hank’s low and slow vocal approach to these tunes, and Noel’s evocative guitar arrangements, serves them well. Most importantly, Hank has strong songwriting skills, and coupled with the simple, accessible production of just his lead vocal, rhythm electric guitar and ukulele and Noel’s vocal harmonies, bass, Dobro, harmonica, and Asher lap steel, it makes for a genuine duo album.
Stylish and chock-full of charms, and brimming with hope, the album practices what it preaches, showcasing the power of slowing down and honing-in on life’s tiny, beautiful details. Hank and Noel instill ambiance and atmosphere in each of these ten originals and one cover, while still allowing the arrangements to remain both sturdy and spare. In these songs, lovers appear like apparitions under shining moons, moments are fleeting, the drinks are cold and stiff, and beauty gives way to darkness lurking underneath. But all the while, ol’ Hank keeps his chin up and looks to the horizon.
Noel Dashwood is one of the most toneful and tasteful Dobro players to emerge in recent years. His mastery of expression through his instrument is on full display on the lighthearted Fingers, a toe-tapper with Hank’s words of wisdom literally thrown away as Noel enjoys the fun with his distinctive picking. From a musical standpoint, the instrumentation on Something In The Air is gorgeously simple, intuitive and warm. Loose and languorous, a little like the pair themselves, the track ripples like a gentle breeze through a pastel-hued orchard on a long summer’s evening. My Love Is Gone is a song that captures the feeling of regret in an astute manner. At times it taps into the beauty of caring enough to be hurt by loss, but it also feels like a quiet celebration of resilience in the face of that loss. Simple Pleasures is a composition that displays a sense of contentment, love and, carefreeness wonderfully, despite hard times. Noel excels with his Dobro instrumental break, while his lap steel work at the close reminds me of those early Marty Robbins’ tear-jerkers.
The invigorating Black Gold spotlights Hank’s signature fusion of the personal and political with clever and astute lyricism. Noel’s clarity of tone is on full display, clean picking with no dirt fuzzing it up despite its muddy roots. A melancholy, evocative cover of Conway Twitty’s early country hit, The Image Of Me, is spare and languid, stripping the song back to expose Hank’s plaintive vocal as Noel’s lap steel chimes in sympathy. While a tasteful nod to Twitty’s original is evident in this lovingly crafted rendition of the iconic song, Hank has made it very much his own, too. Both Hank and Noel possess a laid-back elegance, and their voices pair together perfectly … miss out on his new album at your peril!