Little Mammoths: Cargo for the Road
Independent – 2017
With the demise of Noah & The Whale, the individual members have moved on to their new projects and Little Mammoths is that of former bassist Matt Owens who has switched to guitar and piano and recruited old mates Olly Cox on bass and James Besley on drums alongside pedal steel player Joe Harvey-Whyte, with added contributions from George Leigh on lap slide and brass section Henry Spencer, Steve Burnett and Quinn Oulton.
On Cargo for the Road, their second album, they take a rockier, rowdier approach, evidenced from the start with the loose-limbed bass and brass flaring country boogie Get Me Back To Austin as the singer declares himself “done with the Toilet Circuit in London on a Sunday Night”. They then shift states and tempo for the strummed down-on-luck waltzer Hungover in New York which opens with the line “I didn’t know this was a lesbian bar, you let me in at the door, While I’m here can I still grab a beer, it’s not like I’m gonna score?” and, dancing with pedal steel, goes on to reference Dylan Thomas as, so dry “you could light a match right off my throat”, it pub crawls through the verses “chasing barmaids for brides.”
Indeed bars, beers, women and the life of a travelling musician loom large in their landscape. The slow building His Last Ride is about a fatal car crash after necking too much bourbon. While, on the road and relationship themed First Light he’s on the phone to home talking about buying a bar if things work out, but not mentioning “the crashes, the skids and bar room fights” as he promises to make it home for the morning.
The same ‘life on tour treadmill’ is at the heart of the slow burning bluesy and wearied title track with its mention of “the hours to kill before a show”, “another load-in, another town” and a namecheck for Neil Young’s Cowgirl in the Sand, just to note one of their influences.
Given all this, it’s no surprise also to find a clutch of songs about things falling part or hopes never realised. The driving rhythm of Kokomo is another number about the price paid for living hard on the road between “Rooms-just-departed and the Texaco” as “reports still leak, week on week, of good folks going astray.”
Temptation inevitably rears its head, on the steel-keening slow swaying She Came In From The Storm in which our lonely narrator sits in the bar trading war stories of lost loves with other scarred hearts, as he fantasises about some woman coming in and telling him “I can make you smile again and you’ll like me enough to bear your first born.” It’s a bit like The Eagles channelling Dr Hook and the Old Crow Medicine Show.
And, echoing that one night stand scenario, the punchy guitar ringing Alright For Tonight conjures various thoughts of Springsteen, Petty and Bob Seger in its tale of two people who never found the space to shine coming together for one bright spark, its line “the thing about ballerinas, they fold up like a pack of cards” is inexplicably sad.
It ends, however, on a note of tentative hope in crawling from the wreckage and getting back some traction with the melancholic slow waltz Starting Again, a song about the uneasy calm after a row, about trying to repair the damage done as Owens sings “We’re still an if not a when. With no ultimatums. Let’s not be starting again.”
A solid addition to the year’s Americana stockpile and albums about musicians balancing romance and the road, to misquote Dylan, this is all about a Simple Twist of Freight.