Memory Lane (and other songs of love and hope) by Olav Larsen & The Alabama Rodeo Stars (OL&TARS) has been five years in the making. Why? “Personal issues” are stated as being the reason for this long-awaited release. I really like the band’s two first albums, and they received some well deserved praise upon their release.
Perhaps it takes someone from such a great distance to authentically come to grips with the true breadth of Americana.” – Dallas Observer
I have been eagerly waiting on a new record from Olav Larsen and his companions. Is it as good as I’ve hoped for?
I’ll come to that, first a bit of history.
Olav Larsen was raised in the Norwegian town of Sandnes and introduced to his father’s music collection of blues greats including Blind Willie McTell and Robert Johnson which again led to Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen. As Olav began to fine-tune his own tastes it was a healthy diet of Guy Clark, John Prine, Steve Goodman and Townes Van Zandt that he first feasted on, before turning his attentions more recently to Bright Eyes, Will Oldham and Howe Gelb among others. (press release)
Allmusic (introduction to the review of their first album):
You’ve got to love the back story of Olav Larsen & the Alabama Rodeo Stars. Larsen’s all-American alt-country, it seems, is made by an African-Norwegian who found his way there via records by Gram Parsons, Hank Williams, Neil Young, Uncle Tupelo, John Prine and the like. The Alabama Rodeo Stars? Never seen Alabama. Scandinavians all. But no gimmick, this.
Ok, that was the history lesson, so how is the new album?
It is a better sounding record that’s for sure. The sound is fuller and it has a distinct sound, the sound on the songs are more a part of a “whole album”, a more complete experience. The production sounds more professional. I do not know who has produced and mixed the album, but it sounds really good!
Apart from the production, what strikes me the most is the musicianship. The players are at the top of their game and they clearly have a genuine love for the music. It sounds like they are having fun. They have a great band dynamic and it often feels like it was recorded live in the studio. This is hard to pull off, but this band does it!
When Olav Larsen sent me the songs, he said, “I hope it’s not too country for you.” I replied, “Can it ever be too country?” He laughed.
There are songs on the album that are really honky-tonk, but there are elements of blues, gospel and rock’n roll all through the record. This isn’t slick Nashville or pure Bakersfield, it is a stew. It is a mix of all the good things in country music. This is real roots music.
Let’s take a look at the songs. 11 song about love in all it’s glory, and in all it’s misery. Songs you can only sing after you’ve lived some.
Let’s listen to the fine title track, Memory Lane (live acoustic):
Memory Lane (Studio version):
As solid as the first two records by OL&TARS were, I had some issues with them, the best songs were very good but there were too many fillers. Not so this time, I can honestly say that there are only one or two songs that I tend to skip when listening (but I expect to give them one more chance eventually, sometimes songs need time).
I have to choose some favorites.
The first song I heard from the album was We Used To Be Lovers and it is still my favorite, it reminds me of the fun sparring between such great country couples as Porter Wagoner/Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash/June Carter and George Jones/Tammy Wynette. Doing serious themes with a tongue firmly in cheek.
…and it has a great pedal-steel solo. It starts about two minutes into the song.
I’ve already mentioned Memory Lane and put two version in the post. It’s a sad-happy song, a nostalgic memory. What makes the song for me is the duet, the contrasting voices, the great harmonica and the fantastic fiddle.
My third choice is Sometime’s the Rain Doesn’t Stop. I saw Kurt Wagner and Courtney Tidwell in concert a few years ago, Sometimes The Rain Doesn’t Stop could easily been on their set list. A wonderful country duet, and the harmony singing is breathtaking. Again the harmonica adds a bit of spice, Larsen has become a very good harmonica player.
My fourth pick is Missing You Blues, a slow and intense song about longing. Great fiddle again, and just as much country as blues. Wonderful harmonies over sad lyrics and great sad guitar playing.
I guess you get the picture, I really like the album. And I could go on, I really like the humour of a song like Drinking Can Kill You, the honesty of Speak from the Heart or the church stomp/gospel tinged soul and honky-tonk piano of I’ve Been Searching.
To me it’s a country duet record, Anita Bekkeheien’s singing has added volumes to the record.
But most of all I like that it sounds like a great band that have finally gotten the songs they deserve.
– Olav Larsen – vocal,harmonica and guitar
– Erlend Aasland – backing vocal, electric guitar, pedal-steel, banjo and mandolin
– Arne Andersen – drums
– Jonny Engelsvoll – backing vocal, piano og organ
– Torje Fanebust Ås – bass
– Anita Bekkeheien – Vocal
– Lillian Hodne – fiddle
– Hans Egil Løe – backup vocal and electric guitar
Guests on the album:
– Gunnar Tønnesen
– Stine Janvin Motland
Buy the album on monday (22 April)