There have been plenty of blogs and articles lately about Arlo McKinley & The Lonesome Sound, and I will be the first one to say how well-deserved the attention is [Check out this video we made of them at Buckle Up]. I’ll admit it – I’m a fan. I have listened to the band’s eponymous LP so many times I sing the lyrics to about half the songs from memory when I go about my day. I am blown away by the power and clarity of Tim Carr’s voice, and if I’m still being honest I am a little jealous of his hair. But enough about that… let’s talk about the songs Arlo McKinley & The Lonesome Sound recorded in the Southgate House Revival’s Revival Room in February of this year, and why fans of good, honest songwriting will enjoy the band’s set as they close the Whispering Beard Folk Festival on Sunday.
- 1) I’ve Got Her
I first discovered this song on a video posted by Arlo McKinley & Alone at 3am on the Couch by Couchwest website. The entire first verse has the combination of vocal power, lyrical drama, and musical melody that hit me right in the heart:
You’re always going to leave thinking I’m wrong
You can kick me while I’m down if you want
I can see now while you’re always on your own
When loneliness is all you’ve ever known
My friend, this war you’ll fight alone
It is the perfect first track to an album. The version on The Lonesome Sound’s album has a different lineup of musicians and instruments, but it keeps the same rule-breaking formula of two verses, one chorus, then a long, sad coda to end. It’s a build that makes me as a listener long for more, but relish the brevity of what I was just treated to. I don’t know what that harp-like instrument is playing over the strings, but it is about as lonesome a sound I can think of.
- 2) Don’t Need to Know
In all of these towns, it’s the same old shit
It’s who’s doing what, and who they’re doing it with
I don’t need to know
This song follows a classic Honky Tonk theme of feeling trapped in bars, watching life play itself out over and over. Tim Carr has a rare gift of the ability to write and sing on these themes, evoking the familiar emotions of country roots without resorting to cliché lyrics. His modern translations of the traditional theme still seem timeless.
- 3) Just Like the Rest
When I started taking notes on this song, I just wrote out all of the lyrics. I’ll save the space here instead of quoting every song in this review, but it suffices to say that this particular tune makes me want to go find the guy and just give him a hug. If you ever get dumped, go buy a pint of ice cream and hide under your comforter with this song in your earbuds. It is the consummate heartbreak song, sung from a voice of strength, sadness, and wisdom. The waltz-like timing with long fiddle notes over the lyrics are a nice touch.
- 4) Time in Bars
I can’t think of many another music genres that celebrate its own lifestyle through the music itself quite like Honky Tonk. The songs come from an intersection of blues and country, using themes of smoky bars and lonely hearts. Time In Bars is the consummate Honky Tonk song, reflecting on life and love and the stories we collect over the years of living the lifestyle.
- 5) Too Long
Too Long shifts gears and uses slower melodies that stretch to fit a wider melodic range than most of the other songs on this album. Carr wrote a great song for his voice on this one and shows why singers around town stop and pay attention whenever he is singing. At the CD release party in April I stood near the stage while this song was playing. When I turned back to glance at the audience I noticed all of the singers and guitar players I happened to know in the crowd, and they were so easy to spot. They weren’t talking to other people, and they didn’t seem to have much else on their minds except to study the stage. The lead and harmony vocals on this track are captivating, and this will be one of the songs that makes everything stop for a few minutes while we enjoy goose bumps in 90 degree weather.
- 6) Sad Country Songs
With the “Spirits of Hank” project being such a core experience in Tim Carr’s musical milestones, it makes sense to keep pushing through the sad country themes. Sad Country Songs is an obvious tribute to outlaw country, with hints of Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson in the song’s lyrical and melodic sensibilities, particularly with the line reminiscent of Nelson’s “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys”:
I take what I’m needing from the ladies that leave them
Like I’m living a sad country song
- 7) This Town
Another nice departure from a strict country sound. The melodies and rhythms break convention while keeping traditional sounds of fiddle, slide, and lyrical themes. But as long as this is a list of reasons to see Arlo McKinley & The Lonesome Sound, did I mention Tim Carr’s hair? It’s pretty glorious. He’s a goddamned Sampson. I hope somebody tells him he’s not allowed to shave until Monday.
- 8) Waiting For Wild Horses
“Girl you can wait for wild horses, but I won’t… When the sun goes down I’ll be on my way out”
Like many of The Lonesome Sound’s songs, there is a long, slow build that continues to layer just the right instruments in at just the right times. Through the first verse we only hear one voice and one guitar softly playing in the background, which leads to a slow musical build and lyrics that delve into reflections of past decisions and pending choices. Have your bottle of whatever you’re drinking ready when this song starts. Have a friend hold you if you have to.
- 9) Pass Us By
“Got taken away by love’s one secret. She lined us up to shoot us down”
There are love songs that seem to be about a particular love, with enough references to relate to the songwriter’s story as genuine but vague enough that we can see ourselves translated into the story. Much like the album’s reflections on Honky Tonk life, this song is a wonderful example of how the album’s heartbreak songs all seem to turn inward to the reflections of the singer/songwriter. Rather than focus simply on dramatic relationships, Carr writes on the drama that is life and how it intersects with particular relationships.
- 10) Dark Side of the Street
Of all of the songs on this LP, this one is the furthest departure from Honky Tonk musically, but captures the emotional theme of Honky Tonk life as astutely as any other with lines like:
(She) told me that time was not a friend of mine
And if I want to make it better, stop erasing lines
Just as “I’ve Got Her” is the perfect first song for an album, this song makes for an excellent last track. It has the feel of rock and punk influences, with a gritty sound coming from a harmonica microphone and a little reverb on it meshing beautifully with the natural echo of the Southgate House Revival’s revival room. It is a song about addictions, vices, and struggles with others while battling the self, of giving in and accepting addiction while acknowledging the darkness of what it feels like to feel too far gone to keep hope. “Carrying a debt no honest man can pay”. As a last song, it helps to have heard the nine songs before it. It gives the listener reason to think Arlo McKinley has paid his dues as a musician and songwriter to have created such an excellent album, and that there is nothing but a bright future ahead for The Lonesome Sound.