honky tonk merry go roundHONKY TONK MERRY GO ROUND
The Lucky Tomblin Band
Texas World Records

There’s a good reason the Lucky Tomblin Band is revered in Austin, its home base, and among honky tonk aficionados worldwide. You would expect a high bar to be set by a band with cream-of-the-crop players such as guitarist Redd Volkaert, piano man Earl Poole Ball, bassist-vocalist Sarah Brown, guitarist John Reed and drummer Jon Hahn supporting the genial, muscular vocals of Lucky himself. And sure enough, on Honky Tonk Merry Go Round, all acquit themselves admirably and more (for the record, the band is produced by Lloyd Maines, who also contributes his sparkling pedal steel conversations to further energize the proceedings here); it’s not about playing all the right notes or keeping the beat, which they do without breaking a sweat, but more about playing with soul and sass, like the songs matter.

lucky tomblin
Playing like the songs matter: The Lucky Tomblin Band onstage: (from left) Redd Volkaert, John Reed, Jon Hahn (drums), Lucky Tomblin, Sarah Brown, Earl Poole Ball.

You would expect there to be a drinkin’ song, and there is, and it’s a good one—this breed don’t get much better than Mel Tillis’s classic “Wine,” embroidered evocatively by Maines’s pedal steel behind and swirling around Reed’s cautionary vocal. But there’s much more discussion, if you will, about the games people play, and here’s where Tomblin & Co. really shine. The band uncovers a nice, obscure Willie Nelson country lament, “I’d Rather You Didn’t Love Me” (from Willie’s equally obscure 1972 album, The Willie Way) and Bobby Arnold brings it home with a morose vocal as Ball limns the sorrow with a few choice Floyd Cramer slip notes. While excelling on the 88s, Ball does a wonderful job mining the pain embedded in the late, great Hank Cochran’s classic “Don’t You Ever Get Tired of Hurting Me,” as the band swings along in graceful, low-key fashion with him, Maines adding pedal steel cries and moans, and Volkaert occasionally interjecting a sorrowful guitar lick. While paying respect to the past masters of songwriting, the Tomblins also do right by themselves. Both Sarah Brown and Lucky himself are engaging tunesmiths, as they demonstrate on a couple of occasions. Sarah takes a plaintive lead vocal on her own steady rolling shuffle, “Open Up Your Heart and Let Me Go,” an interesting turnaround on the usual depiction of romantic misadventures in that the woman admits to getting carried away “trying to turn a little kiss into a diamond ring.” Upon which admission she pleads with the man to move on and explore other options. Brown and Lucky teamed up to write the album closer, a mellow country blues, “The Other Side of the Blues,” concerned with its protagonist recovering from his broken heart and finding peace by himself on the road—a scenario Lucky lays out with affecting warmth as he leaves his troubles behind and vows to find some better luck on “the other side of the blues,” guided by the stars lighting his way through the night, a suggestion of divine intervention he posits as proof positive of his ultimate triumph over a broken heart. Soul and sass—and add to the list a life affirming ambience, evident even in the midst of personal turmoil. Honky Tonk Merry Go Round is good not only for what ails you on a Saturday night; it gets the job done 24/7 and pre-existing conditions are encouraged. Finally, a health care plan worth embracing.—David McGee

The Lucky Tomblin Band’s Honky Tonk Merry Go Round is available at www.amazon.com

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (www.johnmendelsohn.com)
Website Design: Kieran McGee (www.kieranmcgee.com)
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY; www.flickr.com/audreyharrod), Alicia Zappier (New York)
E-mail: thebluegrassspecial@gmail.com
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024