I’ve been a fan of country music since Hector was a pup, and whenever I stepped up to this piss pot in Bradley’s Barn, he would growl and snarl like he wanted to go first. Hector was a first rate pissant when I look at it from the long view. I truly appreciated country music innovator Owen Bradley and his vision of melding rock and country and establishing a whole new genre called Country Rock.
Sure The Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers copped a feel on the breast of new wave, but it was Michael Nesmith from The Monkees who gave it sepia-toned realism. In 1968 The Beau Brummels recorded a masterpiece and they named their LP Bradley’s Barn, go figure. It received an incredible outpouring of critical acclaim as a unique and bold musical statement that fused rock and country with more originality than the young hippie-dudes who tried too hard to sound like the Louvin Brothers.
Fast forward to 2007 when Mandi and the boys won the 98.1 Rising Star competition. It was the beginning of a long and fateful journey for Mandi and her musical partner Greg Kervorkian. From the very start the band has insisted on core instrumental precision and great vocals. The band has virtuoso abilities with the use of electric and acoustic guitars, mandolins, banjo slide, pedal steel, drums and dobro.
But the most alluring instrument of all is Mandi Layne’s incredible voice. She has a three-octave range and can sing low and sexy or hit the higher registers like a banshee conjuring up a spirit. She is not afraid to belt it out soulfully, channeling Janis Joplin singing Down on Me or goofing on Loretta Lynn’s down home wisdom. She’s got the gris gris and it is a powerful notion!
The disc contains 11 original songs that cherry-pick what’s best in modern country music. Mandi Layne can hold her own with anybody in the biz. She’s got powerful lungs; a willing diaphragm and can sing from the gut to the back of her throat. Case in point is the opening track, Summer Song. Layne’s pure alto soars with the music and lifts the song into the whole beach vibe. She’s backed up by organ flourishes and jangly guitar. Mandi and her pals Greg Stryker and Kervorkian wrote the music and lyrics that evoked a perfect summer’s day…sun and sand and the deep blue water.
They do not stand on their laurels - instead they shift gears like a NASCAR pit crew. Speck on the Map is a little tone poem about hometown boys, stock car races and Sunday church. This tune cranks out a powerful musical landscape that gets plain folks dancing to rock & roll and country and getting a righteous groove on. Gary Rivers’ Hammond B-3 pulls it all together in a powerful blues vibe.
Before Summer’s Gone provides a rich metaphor for growing up and starting to realize that life is not what it seems, our parents aren’t perfect and neither are we. It is a sweet melancholy when leaves turn brown and winter is on the horizon. But Layne stays in the moment, building her memories and her safe place. The melancholy gradually shifts to triumph that scaffolds the acapella verse at the coda. Sweet!
Our First Last Kiss recalls Kid Rock tickling Sheryl Crow’s fancy with his crooked finger and crooked mind. He’s moaning about three damn days. WTF. But Layne turns it around in a sentimental way; and in doing so, evokes the bygone era of George Jones and the Possum Holler. This is a great duet between Layne and Kervorkian. It works despite a link to the mega hit Picture.
Hot Mess is an all out assault on musical ennui. This is a rocker that takes no prisoners. The throbbing bass line alone is a sensory attack on your loins and a slug in the chest. The top-notch rhythm section pulls it all together. This should be a #1 hit with a bullet but…can you say slut in a country song?
Mandi may be hot but she’s got some outlaw in her too. There is a sense of growth and taking chances. This could be a new direction for the band. They are hitting on all the cylinders with that naughty Bo Diddley inspired beat and the driving rhythms on the Hillbilly Stomp. The drummer Mark Sutton is in the pocket throughout the disc. His expert shuffle on Made Me Change My Mind was the glue that held it all together.
Mandi Layne & the Lost Highway are proving their mettle and actively seeking musical partners such as Matt Bigler, Chuck Alzanian and Richard Dodd. The engineering and mixing was done in Nashville and Franklin Tennessee.
The album ends with There Goes the Neighborhood, a Cool Hand Luke failure to communicate but it’s all of kidding on the square. The song has plenty of humanity and Mandi Layne is in top form in this musical spoof. She’s channeling Shania and Patsy Cline with a little Loretta on the side and having good old country fun from cow tipping to name-dropping. It’s like cheering on Billy Joel when he’s spent and out of breath during We Didn’t Start the Fire but he just can’t stop. Cultural milestones are tagged including Daisy Dukes, J. Geils, Ford Fairlaine, Gomer Pyle, Ragweed, Shotguns and Rebel Flags. It’s a crowd-pleasing flourish of name dropping and kidding on the square that should go down well with the fans.
Kudos to Matt Bigler’s clean, crisp production that leaves space for the music to breathe and never too busy but has enough stops and starts to make it interesting. This is a great body of music from one of the hardest working bands in Michigan.
You can purchase the CD at www.mandilayne.com and is also available in all digital formats.
9th February, 2024