If you haven't heard of Henry Wagons, you should! The Australian musician/radio personality has achieved some notoriety in his homeland, but it was his rollicking reworking of Bruce Springsteen's "State Trooper" that attracted some attention. His latest - heck it's his full-length debut - sounds like he's been well-schooled on classic country a la Waylon and Willie while also well-versed in Wilco and The Jayhawks.
Recorded in Nashville under the watchful eye of producer Skylar Wilson, the album gets off to a very strong start with "Cold Burger, Cold Fries." While the song title might not connote masterpiece, Wagons nails the song with some fine guitar work and a nifty turn of phrase throughout. Meanwhile, Wagons seems to excel on the slower, pedestrian-paced nuggets here as "Weak Link," a song that might be the perfect complement to Steve Earle's "The Other Kind." The biggest surprise comes a bit later during "Santa Fe." On this gem, Wagons teases with a standard ballad-esque structure before shifting gears for a memorable dreamy/edgy adventure. A mash up that thankfully works.
Wagons isn't necessarily everybody's cup of tea, but he sounds like he's in it for the long haul. "King Hit" won't start a line-dancing revolution with its Tom Waits-ian ramshackle approach yet it saunters along without a care in the world. "Henry, what the hell took place," Wagons sings during the tune with the listener possibly asking the same question. Another sweet little keeper is "Head Or Heart," an inventive, '50s era country number that could've fallen off a Statler Brothers album with Wagons' deep timbre quite present.
Comparisons to Nick Cave are a bit easy while Justin Townes Earle dubbed Wagons as "Dr. Seuss meets Conway Twitty." It's that formula the singer uses on the party-flavored "Tomboy" with better than expected results. The same can be uttered for "Only Sane Mother F*****." He seems to miss the mark on "Cowboy In Krakow," which might need some polish (pun intended). Right after that he seems to leave while the getting is good during "As Long As I Breathe," a song that fades out after just 150 seconds, but could've gone on for much, much longer.
If you're a fan of country music the way The Outlaws and those before them did it, then this is the album for you. A very solid debut from the land down under!