By Roger Sharman
A couple of weeks back in Mike and the Moonpies from Austin, Texas released the best kept secret in music this year. Nobody was expecting this, there had been zero press coverage up until the day of release, but then BANG! It instantly became one of the most spoken about albums of the year. I’ve taken my time reviewing this, partly because there has been so much good stuff released recently (new Chris Knight, and Gethen Jenkins new album on the same day!) and partly because I like to chew my food, savour the flavour, and enjoy every single mouthful.
‘Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold’, the follow up to last years killer album ‘Steak Night at the Prairie Rose’ is the 5thStudio release from Mike Harmeier and the boys (there was the live album ‘Live at WinStar World Casino & Resort, released back in 2016 also). It was recorded at the legendary Abbey Road studios in London, accompanied by the illustrious London Symphony Orchestra.
To pair this Texas Red Dirt\Honky Tonk band with an Orchestra was a very ambitious move that could easily have back fired but with the quality of song and musicianship this was always going to be hot stuff in my opinion, post -release has seen this hailed as the Album of the year in some circles.
In a recent interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Mike said “I’ve always been into Sinatra and the Rat Pack, and I wanted to do a crooner record like that for a long time,”. What they’ve managed to achieve here is that crooner record, ‘Young in Love’ is a perfect example of that, its silky smoothness is partly due to the soothing guitar riff, weeping pedal steel, and the divine string arrangement by the London Symphony Orchestra.
The opener ‘Cheap Silver’ is like doing a wine-tasting. Close your eyes, turn it up and you’ll see what I mean. There are so many different flavours there, it has the feel of movie score, you could just as easily be transported to a Parisienne café or to an east Austin Honky Tonk like The White Horse. Swill it around in your mouth, I’m getting hints of classic Motown. Savour its beauty!
**Quick message to the Moonpies if you are reading, maybe you could do a scratch and sniff cover to go with your next masterpiece maybe, just an idea**.
Ironically, although I’m in awe at the entire album and the way the two factions work together, my favourite track is probably the most traditional sounding country song on the whole album, ‘You look Good in Neon’. I think Mike really shows off his talent as a vocalist on this track. Once again there is an exquisite string arrangement and Zach Moulton’s pedal steel sounds absolutely heavenly.
‘Danger’ has a beautiful outlaw guitar intro that’s joined by an almost disco like string section, think seventies disco now, my description almost makes it sound weird, but believe me it works.
‘Miss Fortune’ is summer on the French Riviera, a nice glass of white wine, people watching, or simply putting the roof down on the drop top and feeling the wind whistling through your hair (ok, I don’t have any so I wouldn’t know, but don’t stop my flow!) as you put pedal to the metal in the Porsche. This song is as far removed from Texas as it could possibly be, but at the same time it’s not, it’s totally Texas, and that’s a big part of what makes this the absolute genius of a record that it is.
‘If You Want to Fool Around’ is a Billy Troy cover and really showcases that most emotional of instruments the pedal steel guitar, and Mike and the Moonpies have one of the best in the business in Zach, it’s dazzling in this song, as is Caitlin Rutherford’s laid-back guitar style.
‘Fast as Lightning’ is another cover, originally done by Aaron Sinclair. It’s a quirky high tempo number, and has an ‘all the fun of the fair’ feel to it. It’s a road song, the pedal steel sounds like a train rumbling down the tracks.
The guys round off the album with another cover, this time its Texas legend, Gary P Nunn’s ‘London Homesick Blues’. Please forgive me for digressing momentarily, my good buddy, Doug Rose (Doug Rose Music on Facebook) recently got to open for Gary (Doug, I can just see that huge smile on your face as you read this!). The Moonpies totally own this song for me. I’m sure they’ll collaborate live with Gary on this someday, if they haven’t already! It’s an incredible song, one of my favourites on the album and this lyric is just solid gold “and I’ll substantiate the rumour that the English sense of humour is drier than the Texas sand”. Although guys you didn’t want to leave our sunny shores so, quickly did you? I know its not quite home but still…
I have one and only one gripe about this project and it’s the fact they didn’t sneak in a gig or two while they were here. Mike and the Moonpies you need to put that right as you’ve just got yourself a whole load of new fans, that’s not mentioning those of us who were fans before this album.
It’s one of the albums of the year definitely and I’d love to experience this live in all it’s glory. If you haven’t already, then you need to give this album a listen, you’ll be hooked after just one play.