Let’s get the easy part out of the way. Ags Connolly is a UK country singer who originates and still resides in West Oxfordshire. The fact that he produces country music that equals and on many occasions surpasses some of his international peers is undisputed. His first album ‘How About You’, released in 2014, was acclaimed just as frequently in the home of country music as it was here. The US country music press loved it.
There is a tendency to underestimate our local talent. They are usually considered undercard acts rather than headliners and unless profiles can be raised this is unlikely to be changing any time soon. Occasionally, however, someone comes along that produces a body of work that gets noticed beyond our local circuit. Someone with the talent that equals or surpasses the huge pool that exists in the US. Someone like Ags Connolly.
Ags makes country music because he was a country music fan who realised that he had the ability to write and sing his own songs. He has perfected the art somewhat. He has also passionately embraced the offshoot of our genre, ‘Ameripolitan’ which combines Western Swing, Honky Tonk, Rockabilly and Outlaw coined back in the day by Dale Watson and his promoter Phil Doran. Watson has been a huge influence on Connolly’s musical development. Ags has performed with Dale Watson in Austin, Texas and has taken a band to the US southern states to spread the word.
Apart from a 12-track covers album that was released in June last year, ‘Nothin’ Unexpected’ is his first release of original music for 3 years. The old team have reformed. Producer Dean Owens and the band members from the earlier album have been joined by The Mavericks’ Michael Guerra on accordion and Grand Ole Opry staff member Eamon McLoughlin on fiddle.
The fans of the first album will relish the opportunity to savour more of the style that so impressed on both sides of the pond, but Ags has added an extra layer to the mix with a Tex-Mex vibe on the title track and ‘Do You Realise That Now’.
Opener ‘I Hope That You Are Unhappy’ is the song that Ags’ new label Helm Records are leading with. A song that tells the tale of someone who has been unlucky in love and finding rejection hard to deal with defies its lyrics with its upbeat, foot-tapping tempo. It’s as traditional as it could possibly get and irrepressibly catchy.
Guerra’s accordion adds a Mexican flavour to ‘Do You Realise That Now’, a song that would grace any Mavericks album. A fine example of a song being transformed by the inclusion of one instrument. From the acoustic guitar introduction to the gentle accompaniment on the chorus it’s a song that just gets better and better with familiarity.
Connolly returns to his familiar foundations with ‘When The Loner Gets Lonely’. Lyrically inspired and sparse but also with the accordion adding an almost Gallic background tapestry. “It ain’t easy to tell when the loner gets lonely’
‘Neon Jail’ ticks the rockabilly box of Ags’ Ameripolitan odyssey and the western swing is covered with ‘I Suppose’, a song that will have the traditional country fans in awe. Credit to Stuart Nisbet’s impeccable lap and pedal steel guitars. They add hugely to a genuinely authentic country take on a Loudon Wainwright III song.
That imperious accordion is at the fore once again on ‘Nothin’ Unexpected’, where the Southern Texan influences combine with lyrics that resonate with his local heritage. It was a trait that was commended on his last album. An obvious desire to remain natural and authentic rather than trying to emulate the styles of his US contemporaries. He tells his stories from a point of view that remains local but tells them in a way that transcends boundaries.
He will be hitting the road in the UK supporting The Cactus Blossoms and The Ponderosa Aces. The hope is that the time will come when someone will be supporting him at his own shows. We should be proud of Ags Connolly and the fact that his music appears to cross geographical boundaries and be welcomed with as much enthusiasm as it will be here.
This is a guy who is a contemporary of the performers that some try to emulate. He is making great homespun country music and for that we should be very thankful.
(RELEASE DATE – 3rd FEBRUARY)