I first discovered the UK Americana outfit Case Hardin via their two tracks on the Nebraska Sessions Springsteen tribute, and fully fell in love with them on the release of 2013’s PM, their third album. For their latest release of Colours Simple, the core line up remains as frontman and writer Pete Gow, guitarist Jim Maving, bassist Tim Emery and drummer Andy Bastow and, once again, there’s contributions from Hana Piranha on violin and keyboard player Mike Wesson as well as Eamonn Flynn on mandolin.
Even if their tribute contribution didn’t suggest Springsteen as a firm influence, it would be hard to avoid on the eight-and-half minute anthemic opening ballad, Poets Corner, with its urban blue-collar romanticism imagery (the lyrics actually reference two of the Boss’s songs) , Gow’s sand-grained voice, the steady heartbeat drums and the My Hometown-like intro notes before launching into a full blooded guitar midsection. However, if Maving is in Lofgrenesque mode there, the following track, These Three Cities, sees him channelling Knopfler as Gow delivers a late night snapshot of a conversation between a gin-drinking musician and a surgically enhanced prostitute about Phil Spector’s production as the jukebox blasts out Leader Of The Pack.
As those familiar with the band (the very name taken from a character in a noir thriller) will know, Gow’s lyrics roam the shadows where loss and isolation go for company, talking of women as sirens to hearts too bruised to care about getting beaten again. Cases in point being Roll Damnation Roll, a Ronnie Lane-like acoustic Maving co-write with slide guitar and mandolin, where “He was the calm, she was the storm. A ‘Category 5’ he could never survive”, and barroom piano rocker The Streets Are Where The Bars Are (The Bars Are Where the Girls Are) with its line “If there’s a key to her heart, then I’m damned if I can find it.”
You definitely get a sense that the characters in Gow’s songs have hard lived lives. On the first lines of the guitar slinging (Jesus Christ Tomorrow Morning) Do I Have To Feel this Way?, the narrator’s “battered, bruised & broken, a little swollen around the face”, but it’s all grist to the songwriter’s mill as he says “pass a pen, I’ll get it down before it’s too late.”
And again, the seven minute High Rollers, featuring Piranha’s mournful violin and arguably the album’s breathtaking best, is a simple acoustic ballad about a woman working two jobs to keep the world from the door, servicing “overweight business with hard-ons and body odour” by day and dealing cards from a marked deck to heavy drinkers and heavy smokers at a low rent casino by night.
A similar intimate musical mood and lyrical poignancy is to be found on the stripped back organ drone and acoustic guitar Fiction Writer weaving a narrative about relationship pragmatism and self-delusion.
By contrast, the remaining cuts are all of rockier persuasion. Cheap Streaks From A Bottle is a funky Americana swagger about a barroom femme fatale who “swears like a sailor with the voice of an angel”, the Bennett brothers from Dreaming Spires and Danny and the Champion of the World’s Geoff Widdowson providing the punchy brass section. Shifting into folk-rock mood, Piranha again on violin for the turbulent psychedelic instrumental section, as with The Ring off the last album, Mention In Dispatches draws on Gow’s day job as a CNN war correspondent, sung in the voice of soldier too heavy to carry and “buried in a roadside ditch.”
Finally, the album closes on acoustic guitar and mandolin once more with the strummed uptempo Another Toytown Morning, in which a man (a writer?) reflects on a life and choices made that have led him to the prison cell in which he now sits. As with Willy Vlautin from Richmond Fontaine, a band with which they have musically quite a bit in common, with his “fiction writer’s touch” Gow may well have a novel or two inside him. For now, though, these colours paint aural stories you really should hear.
Review by: Mike Davies
Colours Simple is Out Now on Clubhouse Records
Order Colours Simple from Amazon here