MY GIRL THE RIVER – This Ain’t No Fairytale (Super Tiny Records STR0006)

This Ain't No FairytaleFirst, some bad news for fans of Cicero Buck. They are no more. Second, some good news, American singer-songwriter Kris Wilkinson and English bassist/writer husband Joe Hughes (co-writer of Annie Lennox’s ‘No More I Love Yous’) have reincarnated under this new name, enlisting, among others, the musical services of electric guitarist Will Kimbrough, acoustic player Max Milligan, Sentimentals drummer Jacob Lundby and Nick Pynn on dulcimer, mandolin and fiddle to mention but a few, with Kristin Wilkinson (no relation) arranging the strings.

Musically, there’s not a major departure from what went before, their soft, folksy, pop-tinged Americana still very much in evidence on the opening track, ‘The Rabbit Hole’, a dreamy, slow waltzing song about need that references Alice In Wonderland and features Tom Moth from Florence & The Machine on harp and again prompts comparisons with Eddi Reader. Likewise ‘The Woods Behind Our House’, a poignant and equally dreamy reflection on childhood days and how old stomping grounds have been swept away by urbanisation that features Pynn on South American tiple with Jonathan Byrd providing harmonies.

However, the missing you themed ‘Come Back To Nashville’ introduces a new element to the music in the form of southern flavoured blues. The genre’s always informed the duo’s work, but it’s noticeably more evident here, the track opening on Wilkinson’s sparsely accompanied voice before the instruments, notably fiddle, kick in and a shuffling rhythm sets in as Wilkinson drops in a nod to Patsy Cline. The blues also provide the musical bedrock for another of her autobiographical reflections, ‘Covington’, a love song to the Louisiana town of her birth, the jogging beat accompanied by some fine interplay between Kimbrough’s guitar and Pynn’s fiddle. Things shift to a slow blues, with brushed drums, musical saw and moody guitar setting the mood for the title track, the story of a doomed small beach wedding caught up in Hurricane Katrina before they got to I do, although the lyrics remain teasingly ambiguous as to whether the couple died (“in the sand they found the bride’s shoe”) and why he was marrying her since everyone knew she wasn’t his lover.

There’s a different shade of blues to the mandocello-backed ‘Where I Belong’, Wilkinson’s smouldering ode to her southern roots and the call they have upon her very much the same feel as ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’. They’ve said the album was intended to pay tribute to old school producers and songwriters, and the honky tonk torch sway ‘I’m Givin’ Up On Givin’ Up On You’ with its saloon blues piano (courtesy of John Garden) is firmly in the style of Owen Bradley with tips of the hat to Patsy and Willie in the process.

They return to rootsier Americana with the softly rolling strings-coloured and dulcimer tinged ‘American Bride’, another autobiographically-informed number, here overflowing with love and pride and written from the perspective of the mother-of-the-bride about a wedding dress worn by herself, her mother and aunt, in the hope of her daughter wearing it too. Swaying on a fiddle backing, ‘Love Is’ comes inspired by Townes Van Zandt and Joni Mitchell and is, basically, a list song enumerating the many different things that love means. Then, it’s briefly back to the blues for the goodtime southern R&B groove of ‘Bring It On Down’, inviting everyone along to the backyard BBQ to ‘grab yourself a cold drink, get something to eat’. You can almost smell the charcoal glowing.

One of the most inspirational songs, the penultimate track, ‘Dollar For The Causeway’, a partly true slow country waltzer, is about having your faith in people restored and being shown kindness in the time of need (here it mentions her chicken-raising Aunt Ella, but it could be any good Samaritan), specifically the relative in the song volunteering to look after the narrator’s kids after her husband skips town with their money and car, the title metaphor referring to the pair of 24 mile toll bridges across Lake Ponchartrain from Covington to New Orleans.

The album closes with, appropriately, ‘The Last Song’, an exquisite all acoustic number and the first to be written for the album, a hesitantly strummed guitar setting the scene before strings and brushed drums sweep in for a crooningly star-kissed dreamy number about mortality and final farewells, moving on ‘like a string through the sky tied to the tail of a butterfly’. A new beginning to a hopefully happy ever after, may there be many more last songs to come.

Mike Davies

‘This Ain’t No Fairytale’ – live:

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