With the end of April fast approaching and me personally, being into my 6th week of self isolation, I was starting to feel a little down and forlorn with myself and the situation. I knew where the fun had gone and why, but when was it going to return.
How was it going to return and when it did how would I deal with it. With all this time on my hands, I swear my brain was starting to play games with me and then lo and behold as if by magic my e-mail inbox pinged to say you have new mail. Eager to investigate I opened the e-mail and there right in front of me, like a gift from God was the answer to so many of my questions……the brand new album from those fun loving, whiskey drinking, Willie Nelson loving kick-ass Southerners, The Outlaw Orchestra.
I swear if my laptop could have grown wings, adorned itself with a halo and a heavenly light all around it, it would have done, it was one of those moments.
Pantomime Villains is the bands debut album and is due for release on May 29th. It is being released on Voodoo Queen Records and has been preceded by two EP’s, The Devil Made Me Do It in 2018 and God Knows We Tried in 2019. So far the band have built up to the release date by issuing two singles, Chicken Fried Snake and just recently, on the 24th April, Arabia.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a_arDV8DZhE&w=560&h=315]
Since their inception in 2016, this Southampton based 4-piece, who by their own admission are bred from a twin love of rock ‘n’ roll and irreverence have been entertaining live audiences up and down the country.
Their band biography states that they “exude that Saturday night hell-raising, foot-stamping escapism you look for in live music entertainment”. Having witnessed that experience first hand, on two occasions last year, I can 100% agree with that statement and was hoping that they had been able to transfer that onto their debut album.
For those of you who are unaware of The Outlaw Orchestra’s musical style, they are described on their own website as “a unique blend of hard Southern rock through to Cajun, Country, Flamenco and all cooked together with their signature style of “Heavygrass”. A melting pot of styles from Americana, Southern rock, British 70’s rock, Louisiana roots to Bluegrass”.
So, the album then, what of that. I decided that for this particular release I needed to get myself into character, much like the Pantomime Villains the album is named after so got myself a glass, a bottle of Whiskey and shut myself away from the rest of the house to enjoy the experience without interruption or distraction. That didn’t last long though as after a couple of run throughs I found myself grabbing the Mrs and saying you have got to hear this! I’ll be honest I was like a kid at Christmas who wanted to show everybody what he had just received from Santa. I was excited and wanted the world to know. I even shared the bottle of whiskey with her so she could get into character too.
I am going to declare that this album should come with a Public Health Warning. If you don’t like fun or having a rabble rousing good time that is full of foot stomping, thigh slapping, hat throwing tunes with ample opportunity to shout yee-hah at the top of your voice, then this album is not for you.
From the opening bars of “Take A Bow” my feet seemed to take on a mind of their own. Full of banjo’s, dirty guitars, a mesmerising beat and lyrics involving Tennessee Moonshine the track sets the album up perfectly. It leaves you in no doubt as to what to expect from the 10 tracks you are about to hear and Take A Bow is exactly what all four members of the band should do after writing and recording what is such a fun filled masterpiece.
“Chicken Fried Snake”, the first single from Pantomime Villains is up next. A banjo and drum intro set the rhythm before Roux’s gravelly vocals kick in. “I’m a Rhinestone Cowboy with venom on the side” and “It’s not Champagne on a Tuesday or Friday’s Fish and Chips” are notable lines in yet another finger licking great track. This is fun, amusing and entertaining and as I listen, tap my fingers and sing-a-long I wonder if The Outlaw Orchestra ever went to Nashville, if the Grand Ole Opry would be ready for them.
“Hanging Tree” is the shortest song on the album but is full of some exquisite banjo played at breakneck speed. This is not a track to keep you to the speed limit if you are listening to it in your car as Banjo Pete plays that thing like he is driving down the i-40 to get to a gig like his life depended on it. When we start gigging again, I for one, cannot wait to see this played live as for me it totally encapsulates what the band is about.
Whiskey Drinking Liar” is a familiar track as both times I have seen the band they have played it. It has a real rocking country blues feel to it with a bit of a 60’s/70’s vibe going on. It is darker and moodier than the three tracks that have preceded it and is most definitely about the guitar which grips you throughout.
The halfway point in the album is reached with the second single “Arabia”. To my ear this has a real Rolling Stones twinge to it and at times you can hear a bit of Jagger in the tone and style of the vocals. We are getting the whole shebang here from the Outlaw Orchestra, all the influences, all the styles and making sure there is something for everyone to enjoy.
The second half of the album kicks in with what is one of my favourite songs, “Jumpin’ Jive”. I don’t know if there is a genre called country jive, but if not, it may have just been invented.
If you are not up on the table or the dancefloor whilst this is on then there must be a broken connection between your brain and your feet. It is just made for dancing and having a bloody good time to. How good will this track be played live? It is everything that the Outlaw Orchestra are about on stage, transferred onto a recorded product. It may even see the first jive style mosh pit at a rock gig…..just fantastic!
“Happened Again” is the perfect breather after the frantic dance-a-thon of Jumpin Jive. The guitar parts on this are just delicious and are fully deserving of your undivided attention.
This is a track that requires a single malt, a rocking chair on the porch and no distraction. It leads perfectly into “Voodoo Queen” which has a fun, almost Vaudeville banjo intro to it. This is the bands theatrical moment and they are playing it out just superbly. As the track builds, Roux’s alcohol soaked vocals take over before a delightful banjo solo (how many albums are going to have one of those in 2020) and then a barnstorming rabble rousing ending.
The album comes to an end with a couple of tracks that for fans of the Outlaw Orchestra will be like welcoming home two of your favourite relatives. “Too Much Willie Nelson” is a live favourite and it should now become one of the bands best loved tunes on this release. Full of country guitar and some of the greatest tongue in cheek lyrics you are likely to hear this year, it will have you singing along at the top of your voice.
Lines like “Everyone was buzzing on whiskey, wine and pills” and “you could have been my outlaw if it weren’t for all that puff” will not only have you laughing but keep you playing this track over and over again. You may even be inclined to be like Dave Roux who innocently tells you “I rolled myself a big one and tried to play some Johnny Cash”. After all, with all this self-isolating there is not much else to do is there! That just leaves “Send Some Whiskey Home” to bring the album to and end.
I absolutely adore the Southern rock vibe to the closing number. There is an almost regal richness in the tone to the guitar on this track and the female backing vocals really add something to it that shows a completely different side to the bands playing and song writing. This is an album that has had wit, charm and sparkle throughout, and that final track has added the final coat of polish to an immaculate 35 minutes of perfection.
I think it is fair to say, that I am just a little bit happy that I got the chance to review this album. With all the doom and gloom that is around at the moment and with nobody really knowing what life will be like in the future, this arrived almost with perfect timing to lift the mood of depression that I was slowly falling into.
My advice to anybody and everybody who is feeling like I was, is get yourself a copy of this ordered and when it arrives, crack open a bottle of your finest moonshine, put it in the stereo, hit play and just let go. I am going to be doing that for the foreseeable future and when all this is done and dusted I will be hosting a whiskey fuelled family listening party to make sure every one of my family gets to know why this is one of the essential feelgood albums of 2020.
1 – Take A Bow
2 – Chicken Fried Snake
3 – Hanging Tree
4 – Whiskey Drinking Liar
5 – Arabia
6 – Jumpin’ Jive
7 – Happened Again
8 – Voodoo Queen
9 – Too Much Willie Nelson
10 – Send Some Whiskey Home
Outlaw Orchestra are
David Roux – Guitars and Lead Vocals
Ryan Smith – Drums and Vocals
Pete Briley – Banjo / Lap Steel / Vocals
Alex Barter – Double Bass and Vocals
Outlaw Orchestra Online
Website – www.theoutlaworchestra.com
Facebook – www.facebook.com/theoutlaworchestra/
Twitter – www.twitter.com/outlaworchestra
Instagram – www.instagram.com/theoutlaworchestra
Review by Darren Smith for MPM