John Surge and the Haymakers - Your Wonderful Life
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Your Wonderful Life (Trouble Doll, 2019)

John Surge and the Haymakers

Reviewed by Jim Hynes

"Your Wonderful Life" is the debut from L.A.'s John Surge and the Haymakers, a quartet fusing West Coast country and rock n' roll with a few pop hooks sprinkled in. Recent efforts from bands like the HawtThorns and artists like K.P. Hawthorn and Alice Wallace indicate that while the country scene in L.A. may not be as robust as it was a decade or two ago, there are plenty of hats, boots and high stepping to be found. And, Surge, who seems to breathe California in these songs whether it be "Barstow to Baker" or the solitude conveyed in "Studio Apartment Blues," has been playing the area for two years, shaping his sound and preparing for this album.

This is Surge's first time as a frontman, having grown up in garage rock bands and harmony duos. An electric guitarist by trade, he chooses only to strum the acoustic here while Randy Volin handles the electric axe with terrific work throughout, especially on the opening "Richochet" and "Heather Lee." Simon Runge (drums) and Alex U'ren (bass) supply the rhythm. Some of the city's best musicians augment on select tracks including Ted Russell Kamp (bass), producer Kevin Jarvis (Duane Jarvis' brother) (percussion), Carl Byron (organ), Mary Rifkin (pedal steel), Steve Nelson (bass) and Steve DeWitt and K.P. Hawthorn on harmonies.

The hooks evoke Tom Petty in places, certainly on "Ricochet" while others may echo Dwight Yoakam. While the album mostly rocks and bounces, Surge proves capable of ballad singing on the lush closer "Long Enough," imbued by the layered sound of Rifkin's pedal steel and Byron's organ. Those two tracks sandwich several other gems including the highway love song "Barstow to Baker," a more classic country sound in "You're Really Good (At Making Me Feel Bad)," and some black contemporary-informed humor in "Studio Apartment Blues."

This album was borne out of Surge's love for the seminal bands he heard in southern California in the early '80s. As such he updates the San Diego-based Beat Farmers' "Gun Sale At The Church." So, count Surge, a lifelong musician with plenty of highway miles and small club gigs under his belt, to be among the group of artists leading the next wave of southern California's roots music scene.

CDs by John Surge and the Haymakers

Your Wonderful Life, 2019

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