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neumu
Friday, November 24, 2017 
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artist
The Mekons
recording
Honky Tonkin'
Quarterstick/Touch And Go
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Who doesn't love a versatile band? Not necessarily artists who reinvent themselves to keep up with the times, but musicians who can dabble in it all and pull it off exceptionally well? I can't think of a soul. Not only does it require loads of talent, it demands considerable respect.

The Mekons have been playing music all across the board since the late '70s, from punk to rock to pop to reggae to country to you name it, they pretty much done it. And done it superbly well at that. The Mekons' Honky Tonkin' documents the English group's foray into country — honky-tonk country, that is. And even within a particular genre, the adventurous group remains versatile. Whether it's an upbeat, swinging ditty or a blue, cry-in-your-beer ballad, each country song stands apart from the next. The 16-track reissue — originally released by Low Noise Records in 1987 — opens with the infectious "I Can't Find My Money," which recalls The Clash with its dirty reggae flavor and upbeat ska riffs. Not until the following gritty, plunging track "Hole in the Ground" kicks in are you certain that it is, in fact, a country record you're grooving to, thanks to the healthy doses of slide guitar. With its sluggish beats yearning to hang on alongside pleading vocals begging to understand why you left, "Sleepless Nights" is the first of the record's heartbreak numbers, while the stomping, lovable "Keep On Hoppin'" rides on a snapping steel-guitar bomp and breezy uplifting chorus. The hopping-and-skipping "If They Hang You" finds vocalist Sally Timms on lead, singing languidly atop banjo and accordion. Featuring a funeral line-like marching beat and echo-drenched vocals, "Spit" feels perfectly simple like a Hank Williams song, while the intentionally dark, off-key "Gin Palace" is meant for an old Western bar where the local piano man entertains the drunken patrons. Honky Tonkin' closes with an alternate version of "Prince of Darkness," which appears earlier on this reissue. The sweeping melodies, intricate, building acoustic guitar and sensual mix of boy/girls vocals are still present, but the rhythm's slowed, the energy reshaped and the production dirtied. Honky Tonkin' isn't just a record for the Mekons lover or the country fan. Coming from a band as witty, skilled and risk-taking as The Mekons, this is an album for the music-lover, period.


by Jenny Tatone




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