BY ROGER SHARMAN
Ags Connolly returns on the 16th June with the release of his fourth studio album, ‘Siempre’.
It is my opinion that Ags has long been the most authentic artist on the British country scene, it’s hard for me to think that Ags is part of any UK scene as his music is a million miles away from the vast majority.
‘Siempre’ which translates from Spanish as forever, literally always, is made up of ten tracks, nine of which are self-penned songs and a cover, indeed Ags also produced the album. It was recorded at Wormwood Studios in Oxfordshire, similarly to his previous album ‘Wrong Again’, which incidentally was UK Country album of the year in 2020.
His sound was born in the honky tonks of Texas and this record still has its roots firmly, set in such a foundation but also ventures off in a slight change of direction.
‘Siempre’ see’s the journey headed further down I-35 deep into Southern Texas and Northern Mexico. Think saw dusted type bars in sleepy border towns, with Margaritas being sipped under the moonlight with the scent of chilli and lime drifting from the Cocina’s out back. That’s where ‘Siempre’ takes me to.
Listening to this record it’s hard to imagine that Ags is a native of the south West of England and the vast majority of other players on the record are all London-based musicians, Rob Updegraff on Guitar, Anna Robinson on bass and Chris ‘CJ’ Jones keeping it all in time, on the drums. Ags additionally drafted in San Antonio based accordionist Michael Guerra, who he’s worked with on his previous albums and Nashville fiddler, Billy Contreras, and the UK’s most celebrated Pedal Steel Guitarist also makes a guest appearance on Dobro.
Ags has said of the record “it’s best described as a Texas music album” going onto say “Texas-Style Country is my favourite, and it takes many forms, I wanted to celebrate them all.”
The opening track ‘Headed South for a While’ is a song about turning Forty, being around the halfway point in his life and ascertaining where he’s at in terms of achievement, and how to personally and professionally grow going forward. Ags writes from the heart and from personal experience, feelings and thoughts, so his songs are always relatable to the listener, we all go through such things in our lives.
‘Change my Mind’ is an upbeat polka and one of the tracks that necessitated Connolly to teach himself the Bajo Quinto, a Mexican Guitar typically with ten or twelve Strings that requires a different type of tuning than the standard Six string, and is a consistent feature in Tex-Mex music along with the accordion. Age reached out to Wes McGhee a legendary musician, who advised Ags that “you need the Banjo for an authentic sound” – he should know as he was making records like this decades ago.
Ags further acknowledges the influence of Wes by covering one of his songs on this album – ‘Half Forgotten Tunes’, now this is not a song that I’m familiar with but take a bow here, Billy Contreras, the fiddle playing on this track is something to behold.
The Tex-mex theme continues with “Tell Me What You Were Gonna Tell Me” Which is one of the highlights of the album for me. It really captures the essence of what this record is all about.
The angst laden ‘Overwhelmed’ is more of a traditional Ags-type song, a true Country styled ballad of heart-ache, the type of song that Ags has excelled at over the course of his back catalogue.
‘I Trust My Heart These days’ is kind of a mixture of the traditional type country type waltz but with the Tijuana spice thrown into the pot. Ag’s voice really compliments accordion throughout the record but particularly so on this track. The imagery that this song creates is vivid and showcases the undoubted song writing talent that Ag’s possesses, it’s powerful
Another of the Polka’s, ‘Senora’ (Whatever Comes First) is another highlight of the album for me. It lends as much from European folk music as much as it does from South Texas and country music. There is a large base of German natives residing in the areas around San Antonio and Southern Texas. with the exception of the truck driving, beer-drinking, cussing style of most modern country music.
Instantly I’ve been left feeling that this is Ag’s strongest work to date, it certainly feels like his most polished in terms of writing and delivery, but yet remains sufficiently raw. I’ve always been one to enjoy the imperfections of art as that’s where the absolute beauty lies and this record is sits well within that statement I believe. He should be really proud of this piece of work; it really is instantly likeable, just like that man himself, and it’s like nothing else coming out of the UK right now. The fact that most of his fans hail from across the pond, as well as having fans across Scandinavia and the Netherlands is testimony to the fact that Ags is doing it right.