As we dare ourselves to think that the roadmap out of this pandemic may soon become reality we cannot help but add a few signs of our own along the way. A beer garden perhaps then a bit further along we can step inside the pub to see a band once again. If that band happened to be Bob Collum and the Welfare Mothers we would be in luck. They play a lively contemporary country mixed with generous measures of rockabilly, honky tonk, Western swing and pop. But until they get back out on the road their new album ‘This Heart Will Self Destruct’ should whet the appetite because for a studio album it resonates with the immediacy of a live show.
While many UK country and Americana artists have headed west in search of musical success far fewer have made that journey in the opposite direction. Bob Collum is one of those. Having grown up in Tulsa, Oklahoma he now resides on the Thames Delta in Essex. His sound encapsulates his travels. First, his grandparents gave him a solid grounding in Bob Wills and the Carter Family to which he added influences from over here such as Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe. The Welfare Mothers are a class act, tight as you like and all together they offer a fresh country Americana sound to lift the lowest spirits.
Collum writes with a wry perception. Emotions closely tied to the pandemic are never far away. Beneath a deceptively happy sound lie anxiety, fear, uncertainty, disappointment but there is also love, redemption, faith and hope. ‘This Heart Will Self Destruct’ see-saws between a palpable sense of agitation to a feeling of deep acceptance, a wider swing of mood than the more laid back country rock of his previous release three years ago, ‘Pay Back and Carry’.
The album opens midway between those two extremes. The jaunty tempo of ‘Parachute’ reinforces the song’s optimistic outlook of just getting on with it. Collum admits that the line “We could wait for the right time forever” speaks for the album itself, adding that the “creative clock stops for nothing!”. There is a jumpy tone to ‘Spare Me’, a tale of exasperation which Peter Holsapple squeezes further with drawn out sighs from his B3 Hammond. ’Tall Glass of Muddy Water’ delves deeper into the soul as Collum mixes up some of the western swing of his early years with a soulful, almost bluesy sound.
The accordion line wraps ‘From Birmingham’ in a veil of pure Americana. Inspired by Johnny Cash, Collum again shows his US roots in this atmospheric ballad. The Welfare Mothers are never far away, Mags Layton’s fiddle adds to the wistful mood.
It’s particularly when they up the pace that Collum and his Welfare Mothers evoke gigs in venues jumping with people having a good time. The title track is western swing with more than a hint of Buddy Holly. On drums and bass respectively Paul Quay and Martin Cutmore lay down a sprightly rhythm that belies the darkness of the lyric, namely that there’s always someone who will screw things up.
‘Shake It Loose’ must go on the live set, towards the end. At a frenetic pace Collum is definitely over here now with Costello and Lowe. Again, the Welfare Mothers surround him in tight formation. You can feel the sweat dripping down the walls.
The album’s only cover is another live candidate. With tongue well lodged in cheek Collum offers his rendition of the Leiber and Stoller classic, ‘Saved’. To whirling backing harmonies it’s pedal to the metal as Bob Collum and The Welfare mothers play their turbo-charged version.
With its broad mix of influences identifying a favourite isn’t easy but for those who lean towards a more country rock sound then ‘Second Fiddle’ could be the one. Collum creates a clever melody that hooks so well with the band throughout which they do to devastating effect.
At one level Bob Collum and the Welfare Mothers are a good time band that in the right setting won’t disappoint. But delve into the songs and you will find a lot of the passion that lie behind the core of the finest country and Americana.