There is something undeniably magical about the banjo. The way it gleams when the light catches it, that slightly metallic, twangy sound it produces. If you’re a fan of the instrument, then you’ll likely enjoy this under-stated album, which never really goes anywhere special, but maybe
that’s the point.
The songs are mini soundtracks to lo-fi bar-room brawls, soaked in whiskey and despair, direct from the saloons of Dalas, Texas. A place where “The pictures we create / never fade at all” (‘We’ve Had Everything’). Nothing
ever happens and nothing much changes.
‘I Still Wait’ is the exception. It leaps out and demands your attention early on, thanks to its horse vocals, which recall Micah P Hinson at his most throaty (if you’ve seen him play live you’ll know exactly what we’re talking about). Elsewhere, the tempo is generally lazy and the playing is laid-back, verging on ragged. Only later, on the jaunty ‘Finding It Hard’, does the pace pick up again almost, but not quite, to Duelling Banjos
Most of the lyrics reflect this pervading sense of inactivity and self-pity. There’s mention of one-way tickets, misfortune, getting drunk, spare change and lame jokes, along with an unhealthy dose of lines from the bottle
labelled ‘girl gone and left me’, such as: “I broke my heart in Arizona / I’m waiting on a train / I stood alone for several hours / but you never came” (I Still Wait).
Weirdly, the vocals occasionally resemble Billy Joe from Green Day (slightly grating) and Jimi Goodwin from Manchester stalwarts Doves (smooth and velvety) – although thankfully not at the same time.
Beyond the ever-present banjo and strummed guitar, extra instrumentation is sparse. On stronger track ‘Together’, a bass drum holds things together nicely, and ‘You’ve Got Your Heart’ features a lively tambourine, but that’s about as varied as it gets. True, a good bluegrass band shouldn’t need backing from a 30-piece orchestra to get its feeling across but, overall, these songs aren’t quite inventive enough to stand out, or make you feel much, as they are.
Considering main-men Taylor Young and John Pedigo only formed The O’s in 2008, this is a decent enough debut, with hints of excellence and lashings of banjo, but moments of weakness too. Live, you can bet they’d be worth watching, but listening to The O’s on record on a rainy November night in London, thousands of miles from the dusty Texas prairie, the disconnect can be hard to bridge.
Words: Joe Downie