THE REDLANDS PALOMINO COMPANY – Broken Carelessly (Clubhouse Records CRUK0016CD)

Redlands PalominoIn late 2011, not long after the release of their 2011 sort of ‘comeback’, Don’t Fade, drummer Don Tilbury announced he was relocating to Copenhagen with his family. So, in early February, the quintet, co-fronted by husband and wife team Alex and Hannah Elton-Wall with David Rothon on pedal steel, 12 string and assorted other guitars and Rain on bass, set up stall in an old Methodist Chapel in rural Gloucestershire (a painting of which adorns the cover) and spent six days laying down the material for their fourth album pretty  much as live,  coming to the songs as new rather than having being pored over for months beforehand.  Alex was once more in the producer’s chair with Hannah writing all bar two of the tracks. Following some overdubs ad mixing, was all done and dusted by that summer, but, in true form, it’s taken a further two years to finally surface.

It’s been worth the wait, though I do have to say that, this time round,  Hannah’s vocals are a lot stronger and more confident than her husband’s, something that seems to have been tacitly acknowledged given that she takes the majority of the leads with Alex only in the spotlight on three  occasions, channelling Gene Clark on ‘Solitary Strangers’ and the Byrdsian ‘She Can Live Without You’ (penned by Rothon), on both of which he sounds unusually thin, even struggling on some of the higher notes, and going for a hoarse delivery on the la la la-ing  barroom arms-linker ‘Floorboard George’.

That aside, there’s no complaints as they kick off with the chiming pedal steel of ‘In These Lines’, Hannah hitting her stride with ‘Everything I’m Not’ with its Rumors-era Mac touches, the rhythmically rolling,  almost boogie-like title track with a lyric that draws an analogy between breaking a free-spirited horse (echoes of ‘Chestnut Mare’, perhaps) and breaking a woman’s heart, and the country bounce of ‘Don’t Ever Let Me Down’ with its sprightly drumming and Simon Kelly’s fiddling.

So far it’s very much plus ça change in terms of their familiar country rock comfort zone, however there’s a decided shift of direction when the album reaches ‘Scattered Earth’, it, ‘Swim’ and ‘Perfect Forever’ all atypically taking the mood and tempo down, the lyrics of the former two reaching into the darkness for themes of death and salvation. Something they should explore further.

It’s briefly back to business as usual on ‘The Big Freeze’, before they wind up with seven minute epic ‘Band Song’, Hannah drawing on her Emmylou influences for a movingly heartfelt and unflinchingly honest memoir about twelve years of making music with all the stress and strain it entails as she sings of being broke and tired, scattered near and far, waiting for the break that never comes. But, while the opening line may declare “I think it’s fair to say that the band have had their day”, that downbeat requiem’s kicked into touch, confessing she’s still out there singing because “the pedal steel still makes me want to cry”; a celebration of the enduring power of music that leads to the defiant ‘bring it on’  and a clarion cry of ‘long live the band’. Amen to that.

Mike Davies

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