West of Texas - Heartache, Hangovers & Honky Tonks
Pleasant Valley Ranch PVR-002
This California outfit’s debut album certainly lives up to its title, given the richness and revelry that reverberates through every note and nuance as the generous 16 tracks knock some well-needed honky-tonk into the tepid tea of 2021’s pop-country landscape. From My Whiskey Life, they take listeners in tow as they travel the country highway from the cranked-up Telecaster Bakersfield sound to Texas two-steppin’, some good ol’ western swing, infectious strains of Cajun and border-bustin’ Tex-Mex. The album is a real testament to the songwriting of lead singer Jerry Zinn. Whether it's an up-tempo song or a ballad, he creates songs that are a good blend of traditional country styles and will have you tapping your feet and singing along. If you're a fan of ‘real’ country music, this is a band you'll want to get to know. They are restless, insatiable musicians, collectively striving for perfection in their chosen genre. Together, they create a wonderful pastiche of swing, trad country and honky-tonk that harkens back to the golden age of all three genres without sounding dated or derivative. A varied, warm and effortlessly confident set that consistently sounds like a celebration of life by a group that never takes the gift of playing music for a living for granted.
There’s some fun and some sad songs on offer. The Cost Of Loving You is purposeful and skilful crooning and songwriting, a typical country heartbreaker with generous helpings of twanging guitars, it is well aware of the history it joins and adds to. Cheatin’ Drinkin’ Hurtin’ Song is a boozy number with honky-tonkin’ jangling and rueful reflections on the many ways the narrator can face up to his heartbreak … a hardwood floor, a jukebox, a sad song, a pretty girl, a drink and the inevitable hangover. 12 Steps To Drinkin’ is a lively and fun song with a chorus even the inebriated can sing along with. Kick up your heels and dance along, I dare you to sit still through this one. Darlin’ How You’ve Changed may be another ballyhoo about break-up, but the carefree attitude and jaunty delivery moots any sadness with bright steel licks and infectious fiddle.
The punch-drunk barroom anthem Whatcha Drinkin’ is such an earworm, even the tipsiest barfly will remember it. Fixin’ To Love You is an upbeat, foot-tapping western swing number that is guided by country guitar, piano and pedal steel. All of those pieces though are merely icing on the cake, for which the fiddle is the primary ingredient in the recipe. The classic honky-tonker This Fool is given a sparking border feel with accordion, Spanish guitar, pedal steel and a dry vocal straight off an Ernest Tubb disc. They ring the changes further with the contagious Bayou Boy which adds a healthy dose of Cajun to the mix. Drenched in steel and oozing honky-tonk authenticity, Sound of my Heart Breaking is a country swing sort of throwback song that’s just right for two-stepping,
This varied material showcases Jerry Zinn’s passion for traditional country music; alternately vulnerable, humorous, forlorn and tender. Credit to all of the talented musicians for a superb job of mixing the results and keeping it effectively measured and maintained. West of Texas deserve credit for interspersing their craft with conviction. An impressive debut, it bodes well for whatever may come next.