We Brits have originated or replicated just about every musical genre: be it rock n roll; blues; pop; folk; rap; … But country music is one we don’t seem to ‘get’. We generally don’t hitch rides on big ol’ freight trains across great swathes of open land (the early morning cross country from Lichfield Trent Valley to London Euston doesn’t have quite the same romantic notion). We don’t have hundreds of acres of cotton fields, or indeed any dust bowls. Therefore, it’s fair to say we don’t really relate to this style the way our American cousins do. However, that boot kicking twang does occasionally seep into our waters from unusual sources: Ginger Wildheart, for one, is currently touting a solo album of country musings. So I think it’s fair to say that although Oklahoma residents DocFell&Co are by and large not your usual Moshville fodder, you may find that their latest album Dustbowl Heart is actually good for what ails you.
Erring more on the roots country rather than the americana side of the spectrum (think Willie Nelson rather than Wilco), Dr John Fell (a real medical man, not just a hokey nickname) has assembled pretty much the same cast that recorded debut album Scissor Tail in 2014, but added a few more friends and collaborators he’s met along his merry way to produce the 10 tracks that make up Dustbowl Heart.
Though DocFell & Co are Oklahoma natives, Dustbowl Heart is Nashville through and through. The themes throughout the album will be familiar to ardent country lovers, with the odd twist here and there to keep a foot firmly planted in this century. Case in point being opening track “Lonsomeville”. The intro is like a field recording dialed in from another era. Warning of soul stealing devils and painting a vivid backdrop of abandoned highways and sycamore trees, it’s a fine way to kick off proceedings. Following track “The Less I Know” lands in more familiar territory. A plaintive, fiddle driven tale of old love, with a modern country twist to keep it more upbeat rather than maudlin. Indeed, this is the template for much of the album, with tracks like “Tumbling Dice” and “Dandelions” not straying too far from the formula, guitarist Kyle Brown alternating between complementary lead licks and more heavy handed rhythmic strumming.
That’s not to say that the album sits in one gear throughout, far from it. The rollocking “Love Sick” is a jaunty highlight that comes on like mid period Replacements jamming with Hank Williams at his most playful. Troublesome women? Check. Bootleg booze? Check. Hollering backing vocals? Absolutely. Equally, “Dustbowl Heart” itself packs a mean punch. A harmonica wails away on this fun travelling tune, which, thanks to female vocalist Caitlin Cory sparring with the Doc on the chorus, gives a nod to Johnny and June.
The album trots along nicely on waves of pedal steel melding with spare percussion and fiddle breaks, until we get to final track“This Machine” (Woody Guthrie fans take note), which closes the album in as startling a manner as “Lonesomeville” opened it. Again, visions of impending doom paint a much broader picture than your usual run of the mill country themes. I feel that it’s these two tracks that lift Dr Fell and his gang above your average artist of the genre.
So, ten tracks in just a little over half an hour. Dustbowl Heart doesn’t outstay its welcome, and actually invites further listens for when you want a break from all that riffage and shouting. Admit it, sometimes you do.
Dustbowl Heart is out now.