My Darling Clementine – Still Testifying
Continental Record Services – 2 June 2017
Word and reputation of My Darling Clementine having gradually grown over the course of the last three albums, the most recent being The Other Half, an audio book and live show project built around their songs with crime writer Mark Billingham.,
Michael Weston King and wife Lou Dalgleish, aka My Darling Clementine, return with Still Testifying, their third loosely conceptual collection of troubled relationship-themed songs. This time, however, featuring an impressive roster of musicians whose ranks include guitarist Martin Belmont, Alan Cook on pedal steel, bassist Kevin Foster, Geraint Watkins playing organ and accordion and Nick Penetelow on sax, it sees a further move away from the countrypolitan sound of the debut with its George and Tammy template into more country soul waters.
It gets underway with The Embers and the Flame, a rework of The Other Half show closer Precious As The Flame, co-penned by the duo and Billingham, about the difference between love and in love, only this time with more resonator guitar and a lashing of horns driving it along.
They trade verses on Lou’s waltzing road song piano/organ country soul ballad Eugene, a song born from, but not about, her being taken ill in America and being cared for in the titular Oregon town. From here, it moves on to another slow number, Michael’s 60s Atlantic soul-infused Yours Is The Cross That I Still Bear (originally stripped down contribution to the Bear Records Family 40th Anniversary box set) about the connections that are hard to break, even when a relationship ends.
Something that characterises a lot of his writing is the way he sneaks in references to other songs, and he’s having a field day on the soft waltzing duet Since I Fell For You, one of the more honky-tonk flavoured numbers, with lyrical nods to Helen Shapiro (“walking back to happiness”), The Searchers (“every time that you walk in the room”) James Bland (1880 minstrel tune Hand Me Down My Walking Cane), Elvis Costello (“I tripped at every step”) Ray Price (“my shoes keep walking back to you”) and even Crowded House (“I fall at your feet”) as well as interpolating Van Morrison and Penn/Moman as they sing about going “from the dark end of the road to the bright side of the street.”
Echoing the guitar lines of Last Train To Clarkesville and the tune of Silver Threads and Golden Needles, There’s Nothing You Can Tell Me (That I Don’t Already Know) is another of the more country track about a couple who’ve been around their separate blocks a few times but are still willing to give love another shot.
Having been feted for her answer song No Matter What Tammy Said, Lou’s taking another shot with Jolene’s Story, a whispery sung with distant drums and strings sequel to the Parton classic, but from the home breakers side of things, revealing how they both ignored the pleas and how the two of them are still together, guilty as charged.
Another revival from the Billingham project, featuring pedal steel, accordion and piano, the slow swaying Friday Night, Tulip Hotel is a bittersweet sketch about a couple’s regular illicit rendezvous that inevitably ends in tears.
Calling Bacharach & David to mind, Just A Woman is another Dalgleish-penned number about a woman’s unfaithful lover going off and marrying someone else, a close thematic relative to The Other Half on the debut album.
Penetelow’s yakety sax swings into Tear Stained Smile, a classic late 50s countrified rock n roller you could imagine Elvis having sung, except this one’s about an adulterous couple, an ill husband and suffocation. After all, you can’t have a proper country album without a murder ballad.
Clocking in at six minutes, the penultimate Two Lane Texaco is the longest track, a sepia-toned old fashioned waltz about the those small American towns that died when the highways were widened and the industry on which they were built (oil, here) moved on, the song soaked in nostalgia with reference to Wolfman Jack although, perhaps less romantically, The Megawatt Valley mentioned is actually the site of power stations in Yorkshire.
It ends with Shallow, a 40s style crooner about relationships that start off in harmony but are, washed up on the shore of the sea of love, the couple’s equally talented daughter Mabel delivering the line about how “she sang him The Roses of Picardy while he sang The Workingman’s Blues.”
Laying claim to be the best British country album of the year for the third time and shaping up to be their most successful yet, long may they continue to bear witness.
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