As minds begin to think about albums of the year, one sure to feature widely is the recently released third album from Ags Connolly, Wrong Again. Despite its title, Connolly hasn’t put a foot wrong. All songs bar a wonderfully selected cover are his own, where he sings of lost love, sadness generally and drinking away those sorrows in a voice gently wearied and honed by years spent on the road. To the gentle honky tonk, the crying pedal steel and lamenting fiddle you can feel the heat outside, the sun blistering down and the welcome shadows and cool of the bar room. In the corner comes the sound of pure old time country music that’s directly descended from Nelson, Cash and Haggard.
To hear Connolly it still comes as a surprise he is English. His voice says he must be from Texas but this isn’t a man who just happens to be able to sing in a convincing American accent, it’s his deep love of traditional country music seeping through every pore of his songs that creates the authenticity. Perhaps it’s the simplicity of the music but this is a singer/songwriter whose early inspiration came from Leonard Cohen, Dylan and Loudon Wainwright III who found his true home in David Allan Coe, Johnny Paycheck, Dale Watson and Guy Clark. We have to thank Darrell Scott’s songwriting workshop that Connolly attended ten years ago for setting him on this course.
The Tex-Mex opening bars of first track, ‘I’ll Say When’ immediately whisks the listener from green Oxfordshire far away towards the Mexican border. The gentle accordion of Maverick Micheal Guerra sets the scene. Connolly sings “just pour, and I’ll say when” as he muses about love lost back home while he was away on the road. But he has no regrets as he’d do it all over again.
The solitude of this itinerant life is a constant theme. Again from the barstool, ‘Lonely Nights in Austin’ sees him comparing long nights with only his own company to the joy of finding “someone special”. You can feel the emptiness.
Connolly really does making a mess of things well. ‘Wrong Again (You Lose A Life)’ may have a jauntier pace but the story is the same old love gone wrong despite how he had thought this time would be different. Eamon McLoughlin’s fiddle adds to the pathos.
Connolly is a big supporter of the Ameripolitan movement which supports new artists seeking to maintain the traditional influences and it shows in ‘Say It Out Loud’. Reliving the aftermath of love and its subsequent loneliness Connolly stretches his voice towards George Jones while musically the movement’s roots in western swing shine through.
‘What Were You Gonna Do About It’ evokes the direct approach of Haggard. A solid beat and Joe Harvey White’s weeping pedal steel propel Connelly’s determined question to which any country traditionalist will confirm, there is no answer.
The Ameripolitan work is valuable in ensuring the music doesn’t lose touch with its roots but so does a well-selected and performed cover. Gordon Lightfoot’s ‘Early Morning Rain’ is a perfect example. If anyone can recreate the sadness and loss of “I miss my loved one so/In the early morning rain there’s no place to go” Connolly can. He slows the original pace slightly but that just adds to the despair.
Connolly closes back in the honky-tonk bar with ‘Sad Songs Forever’. Perhaps this is a clue to what motivates him, “I want sad songs forever/ sad songs to make me feel I’m alive”. The two-step unites band and Connolly in flawless harmony.
With Wrong Again, Ags Connolly shows how he cares so much for the roots of traditional country music, not by treating them as a relic but as something vibrantly alive and to be nurtured. He may reside in Oxfordshire but his soul lies in Texas.