Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Sweet Irony: The Reconciliation? by My Darling Clementine

Lou Dalgleish and Michael Weston King of My Darling Clementine

If imitation is the highest form of flattery, then the country group known as My Darling Clementine has made it a means to an end. On their new release The Reconciliation? [Five Head], an exceptional band with relish and love plays every possible musical hook in traditional country music. But on closer inspection, a respectful tribute to a particular country sound is revealed.

My Darling Clementine is made up of principals Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish, a husband and wife duo named after the classic song of 1884. But they aren’t from rural America; they're from Derbyshire, England. Yet you'd never know their British roots listening to this superb release. Inspired by the works of Townes Van Zandt and the classic male-female duets of American country music as best performed by George Jones and Tammy Wynette, King set out to write and record a series of songs about relationships. The result is a concept album that asks the question "the reconciliation?" and answers it 12 different ways.

As a country record, it's art imitating art but with a charm and simplicity go deeper than simple tribute. The songs are typically "hurtin" tunes about failed relationships, the meaning of love and life, and how we reconcile the need for love with love's failure. It's the kind of subject matter that has distinguished modern country since the 1950s, with the singer looking inward to understand his or her choices in life. On The Reconciliation? both King and Dalgleish sing to each other on every track. It’s a record as nostalgic as those classics from the '50s, but it stands up well because of the strength of the pair.

Also, there's just enough humour in the presentation as proven by their video for the first single, "No Heart in this Heartache." It's a light film with the protagonists, King and Dalgleish, dressed plainly but clearly as newlyweds; Dalgleish wears a veil and white boots. It’s a great to see them revel in each other’s company. But the group does get slightly serious on its George Jones tribute song, “The Gospel According To George.” It's a song that seeks to explain Jones's notorious behavior written as a musical conversation between husband and wife. She sings, “Oh you lived to tell to it all but how you hurt us/ Oh you lived to tell it all but why desert us, while he laments, "I'm tarnished by my history/ the very thing that made me...”

My Darling Clementine's previous effort of 2011, How Do You Plead?, posing a judicial question, was as much an experiment as a musical statement. This new album solidifies the group's commitment to write and perform songs a la Jones and Wynette, to my ear the biggest influence on My Darling Clementine. The best example is “100,000 Words.” As King describes it, “It is a sweet irony that in country music, the joining of two voices should so often be used to sing about disharmony. Songs of betrayal, regret, anger, guilt, revenge and hurt. But it is that contradiction which draws us to this music. Two people, singing to each other, about each other, while staring directly into each other’s eyes. As listeners we become voyeurs to something so personal. Like eavesdropping neighbours tuning into a domestic. We are at once curious, sad, compelled but yet unable to turn away.”

The result is an album that strikes a musical balance between tribute and parody. In an effort to be authentic, they even list the specific year, make and model of the band’s instruments to prove their sincerity. I didn't need to know that because I was convinced of their sincerity after the first song, “Unhappily Ever After,” about a couple in divorce court looking to be reconciled by a judge. Do they live happily ever after? Let’s just say they’re working on it. The Reconciliation? offers listeners a mature, authentic sounding album of original songs that are much better than most of the stuff coming out of Nashville these days.

John Corcelli is a music critic, broadcast/producer, musician and member of the Festival Wind Orchestra.

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