Gentle, warm summer evenings are the perfect time of year at which to launch this lovely little debut collection of folksy melodies and country tales by singer-songwriter Elvis Perkins. A mixture of all the comforting elements of Americana, he weaves a quilt from song pieces spun from a darker tradition, reclaiming them for campfire lullabies.
Currently supporting Willy Mason around the UK (at least, when his van doesn’t break down – bad luck Belfast), Perkins is very much from the traditional rather than the alt.country end of the spectrum. In song titles such as All The Night Without Love and The Night And The Liquor, he’s recalling stories the country community know and love but he does it with such fairytale innocence that he really does bring a new direction to the music. When so many performers are trying to push the boundaries, sometimes it’s nice to have something so plain and straightforward.
There are no shortage of musicians helping him on his journey – 34 are credited on the sleeve notes – and despite instruments as diverse as bottles, bongos, double basses, vibraphones, harmonicas and cellos, it all manages to sound remarkably pared down and homespun, particularly on the aptly titled It’s Only Me, which features just Elvis and his acoustic guitar.
At other moments, you get a full sing-along choir: 14-strong on May Day. The names comprising it sound born to make ornery country music – there’s Brigham Bough, Osgood Perkins, Brent Bluett, Coco Lopez and Larry Rott amongst others. Can’t you just imagine them opening their arms wide and welcoming you into a ramshackle moonshine bar somewhere the wrong side of the crossroads?
Ash Wednesday isn’t brimming over with originality, but the way it falls halfway between Clint Black and The Handsome Family gives it a particular charm, especially on the more maudlin tracks, such as Moon Woman II and The Night And The Liquor. His world-weary voice matches the material well, and shines when it has the room to on the slower and more fragile tracks, such as It’s A Sad World After All.
This is an album that gets better with repeated listens, the perfect late night accompaniment to dreams of the wagon trail and men in plaid shirts, with a very modern twist: he sings of cappuccinos as much as bourbon, an urban cowboy for the 21st century. Perhaps this is what modern country music has become, when the cities are the only fields many of us have ever known. If this is deliberate, it’s a trick for which he deserves a huge amount of credit.