Ags Connolly - How About Now
I have great sympathy with Ags Connolly. He hankers after a long-distant past, which has all but disappeared in a blur of mobile phones, Ipads, downloads and selfies. This appropriately titled first album is steeped in the kind of country music I was listening to in the 1960s and 1970s. It’s a musical styling that sadly doesn’t fit in 2014, in much the same way that Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family didn’t quite fit in back in the mid-1960s, when I was getting high on Merle, Buck and those classic Little Darlin’ records of Johnny Paycheck. Though he hails from Oxfordshire, his singing voice doesn’t. Like way too many British ‘country’ singers, he displays this twangy ‘American’ accent, but for Connolly it works, because the songs he writes and sings wouldn’t work any other way. At times, especially with I Hoped That She Wouldn’t Be Here, I thought for a second or two that I was listening to prime-time David Allan Coe. Both Paycheck and Coe are big influences; he also cites Dale Watson, but Connolly is in a different league to Watson. Whereas the latter’s songs regurgitate phrases and melodies from country classics of the past, Connolly takes more of an original approach, creating songs that are lyrically fresh and inventive, though still harking back to the past.
Opener When Country Was Proud is a nod to a bygone time, here is the story of Connolly’s passion for old-school country, longing for the simplicity of days past. Not sure I agree with his sweeping comments about today’s country music … there was just as much bad music recorded back then as now. But this is not the time to split hairs. From there, it’s a captivating run through sounds and stories that rekindle the trad country of yesterday. Along the way there’s stops for the easy lope of A Good Memory For Pain, with its fine accompaniment of fiddle, mandolin and pedal steel; I’m Not Someone You Want To Know, a near-perfect barroom lament; the recollection of I Saw James Hand, a particular gig that I also attended, and much more—true stories and tall tales, but always with real people and real situations at their centre.
His country-to-the-core delivery evokes the memory of David Allan Coe’s best work for me, which is fine in my book of memories. Connolly’s passion, authenticity, and laid back delivery shine through for the listener’s appreciation. Absolutely country with arrangements and instrumentation that bring the lyric and effortless vocal so far forward they reach past your auditory and right into your heart, right into your soul, right into your gut. This album stands as a statement by the old guard that, for better or for worse, this is how country ought to sound. While it all sounds like Ags Connolly and company have set the Wayback Machine for circa late 1960s and early 1970s, it matters not because this is real country music pardner.