As a music critic, you do like to think you’re relatively up to speed, especially in genres for which you have a particular liking. However, there are times when you discover a gaping hole in your knowledge. Case in point, Louisiana husband and wife duo Katie and Mike West better known as Truckstop Honeymoon. Never having come across them before, I’d assumed The Madness of Happiness was their first, at most second album. As it turns out, it’s actually their eighth. She’s also recorded a set under her maiden name as Katie Euliss while he has eight solo outings under his belt. There’s a lot of catching up to do.
However, a little Internet trawling and I realize,I’m actually familiar with Mike. Born in Australia (son of novelist Morris West) and raised in the UK, he used to front indie underachievers The Man From De Monte and was half of Redneck Riviera, whose 1996 album is nestling somewhere in my collection. It’s good to make his reaquaintance.
After their New Orleans home was washed away by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, they’re now based in Kansas (the subject of the ballad House Of Love, which features the line “our first Christmas in Kansas and everything went to hell”), where, rebuilding their studio, they’ve established themselves as both a live act and producers, Mike most notably twiddling the knobs for Kirsty McGee’s Kansas Sessions album.
Sharing lead between them as well as duetting, he now sounds like a young Willie Nelson, but with a seasoned chewing tobacco quality to the voice, while she has the sort of high Partonish twang you’d expect from a North Carolina girl. As well as both playing guitar, he handles banjo and mandolin while she takes care of upright bass and piano
Named from account of spending their wedding night at a Louisiana truckstop between shows, the music roams as freely as their cross continent touring, taking in bluegrass, rockabilly, punky rock, which y’all come country, Dixie jazz (as on Little Red Bird) and even vaudeville with songs featuring lyrics that are as playfully sharp as they are resolutely autobiographical.
By far the freshest ‘new’ discovery of my year so far, conjuring Buddy Holly thoughts, don’t take me for granted opener, List Of Chores establishes their talent for a catchy melody from the get-go and proceeds through the likes of the country waltzing Home Is Not A Hotel (a song that will resonate with parents of teenage kids), the jazzy jugband feel of Couch Surfing With A Family Of Six (life on the road with a family), the twangsome Don’t Put Words In My Mouth (a song about writing autobiographical duets), The City That You Loved’s Steve Goodmanish tribute to their old home and the chugging Jonathan Richmanesque country punk Running Shoes.
If you want to pinpoint other influences, then you’ll find a rich seam of Guy Clarke veining the witty mandolin-accompanied ‘it’s time I acted grown up but not lose my childlike wonder’ themed Lego Airplane. And, just to underline their acrobatic diversity, Watching The Weather mixes in Latin sway verses with a snarly rock chorus.
On the title track they sing about how raising kids with the one you love “will make you certifiably insane’. If such craziness produces albums like this, then they should ban contraception right now.
Review by: Mike Davies
Released on Squirrel Records, out now