Alan Tyler is something of a wonderful oddity. He’s a cockney in love with County & Western. It’s a deep rooted love, this hasn’t been a brief infatuation. He fronted the criminally ignored Rockingbirds back in the early 1990s – back before the ‘alt’ was welded on, before Rick Rubin refocused Johnny Cash‘s career. This was back when country rock was about as popular as Jade Goody.
The Rockingbirds ploughed a lonely furrow amongst the baggy chancers and acid house heroes. They were a band out of time and their record sales, or rather the lack of them, reflected this. Yet Tyler’s love is so consuming that something as trifling as commercial failure wasn’t going to force him onto another musical highway.
With The Lost Sons of Littlefield, Tyler has dusted off his guitar and returned from the wilderness of North London. Those English roots inform the first single and best track on show here. Middle Saxon Town is a glorious hymn to his suburban childhood and his return there as an adult. It mixes a lyric as touching and astute as Ray Davies in his prime with a series of pared back verses carried by a mournful fiddle line. The chorus swings like a hoedown fuelled by moonshine. Any song that manages to mine romance from ring roads and rootless suburbs wins a place in my heart.
Alan Tyler is obvious in love with America and its musical traditions, but it’s not a blind love. Guns is a targeted and sharply written slap in the face for Country music’s support of US gun culture. The banjo, fiddle and crystal clear acoustic guitars could be seen as a pastiche of Nashville mores if the song wasn’t grounded by Tyler’s passionate vocal.
To attempt Ghost Riders In The Sky is a brave move by Tyler. This classic has been recorded by a who’s who of Country – everyone from Burl Ives, to Peggy Lee and the Man In Black himself Johnny Cash have all lent their names to the song. To his credit Tyler succeeds with ease. The huge echoing riff, rattling with reverb is full of dark omens, the perfect backing for lyrics that carry the nightmarish visions of a sky full of fire breathing cattle.
What really marks the LP out is the reliance on British musicians playing country like natives of the Mid West. Frank Black decamped to Nashville with the cream of session players to record his country opus Honeycomb. For all the top dollar he spent the results lacked the warmth on show here.
This is a glorious anomaly, a record that oozes affection and affirmation from every minor chord and pedal steel stroke. Alan Tyler has produced a work that would sit comfortably amongst the piles of scratched vinyl that he clutches so dearly to his heart. Wipe the winter blues away with a little Country sunshine via the warped imagination of Alan Tyler.