THE COUNTY AFFAIR – Off The Grid (Sonnet)

Off The GridBack in the 70s, Nottingham teenage best friends Tony Regan and Kevin Brennan formed themselves a country band. Then in their 20s, after going to different universities, they found themselves in the States and blagged themselves a residency at a bar in Houston, then began touring cross the country. But with that old parental nag ‘isn’t it time you got a proper job’ finding its way into their conscious, they returned home take up graduate careers, Tony going into advertising and Kevin ending up as Worldwide CEO for Quorn.

But while you can take the man out of the music, you can’t take the music out of the man. And so, some thirty years on from the youthful Irish club gigs, Kevin decided to step down and pick up where  he left off, reuniting his musical partnership with Tony under the guiding hand of veteran producer Tom Nichols, the pair combing their song writing talents to assemble this debut album of Americana, folk and blues.

Off The Grid  kicks off with ‘Man Of Note’, a finger snapping bluesy gospel groove with an alcohol soaked barroom piano, before roping in former Lonestar lead singer Richie McDonald to duet on the uptempo melody and hooks of ‘Nashville Storm Warning’ (“She leaves a wake like a hurricane”) and then slipping into the guitar chiming notes of the cascading lost love reminiscences of the death ballad ‘Beach’.

Kick beat drums drive along the rolling title track with its gutsy electric guitars, backing vocals and a dutiful country line about a pick-up truck and being in hoc to ex-wives and, keeping the tempo and the percussive clicks on the move for homelessness themed ‘Every Ghost’.

Elsewhere things get funkier back into the blues on ‘Lying Next To Me’ which plays a typical double meaning country card, moody and broodingly bruised in ‘Bourbon Breakfast’ about drowning your demons in the darker demons of alcohol’ and turning up the Southern twang, piano and steel for ‘Playing Poker’, a cautionary tale about not borrowing money from a man with hat even if you think you’ve got a winning hand.

Spinning a story about a fatal car crash involving the parish priest and a headmistress, bags in the trunk, and wagging tongues, the title track  (complete with spoken last verse) is train time affair that, naturally namechecks Johnny Cash.

With pedal steel waves ‘Baby’ is a chiming upbeat love song, but, for me, the album standouts start with accordion accompanied ‘The Seaview Inn, a walking beat catchily melodic snapshot of the sort of bars (“Thirty miles north of nowhere/Sells fuel, whiskey and gin/Five miles south of some ocean/You’ll find the Seaview Inn”) they likely played in small town America where the punters spin their tall tale fishing yarns. Staying in the bars, a Southern country shaded ‘The Waitress’ tells of the girl serving the drinks falling for the “shaggy guitar player”  in a  pick-up band, a brief moment in the local music star spotlight , the wider success that never came and the despair, drink and dope that eventually tears them apart. And, finally, album closer ‘Go Tell Your Father’, the jogalong arrangement belying the bittersweet early 1900s narrative of the brother left behind to help on his father’s farm (“Pa can’t go on alone/Early milking kills him bit by bit, need to keep a young son who’s fit”) when the oldest son took off to seek fame and fortune, losing touch over the years with “just a Christmas card at most”.

It’s been a long and winding road to come full circle, but, while they may not be pushing any envelopes, they’re a welcome addition to the bourgeoning homegrown Americana scene.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website:

‘Nashville Storm Warning’ – official video: