Wayne Mills was like that warrior that refuses to come off of the mountain. With defeat eminent and inevitable, he would rather raise his fists in the air and rage against the dying of the light then let it overtake him sitting down or sulking. He was like that old honky tonk that refuses to sell as strip malls, condo complexes, and highrises get built up all around it; the one lone holdout swearing off the money that selling out would impart on the principle that everything real, everything worth cherishing is disappearing, and with it, the ties to who we are as people, and the culture that we come from.
In the culture war, Wayne was that painted up, passionate warrior that rallies the troops with his sword held high, stern faced and stubborn as the waves of change sweep over and ultimately destroy all of what once was; victims of progress and the cult of priority.I’ll be there when they burn the last honky tonk down In body, mind, and spirit, under the table, or under the ground The fading echos of a barroom band might be the only sound I’ll be there when they burn the last honky tonk down
These are the words that form the chorus of the title track, and the theme of Wayne’s 2010 album with The Wayne Mills Band called The Last Honky Tonk. Both thematically and sonically, the album and Wayne are like a big stick in the mud and a finger in the eye of the forces severing country’s roots, drawing heavy from the Waylon Jennings-inspired half beat and electric sound, then floating towards the Willie Nelson waltz and acoustic rhythms, and by the end of the album, touching on and paying homage to most of the country music textures that are seen today by Music Row’s money-driven perspective as outmoded.
The second song on the album,”One Of These Days,” is about losing friends too early, reminiscing back on their lives, and using it as a reflection on his own. “My friends lost their lives, but I remember their dreams,” is what Wayne says leading into the the first chorus that talks about the promises we rarely keep to ourselves.
The infectious hook and groove of “Same Old Blues” makes it one of the most fun tracks on the album, while “It’s Just Not My Style” speaks to the personality of Wayne to just do things his way, and lead by example. “Old Willie Nelson Song” and “Friendly Companion” pay homage to Wayne’s musical heroes, but not in the pandering, name-dropping manner of many modern day country songs, but in the context of a heartfelt story. Then “The Truce” duet with Presley Tucker draws inspiration from the famously tumultuous relationship between Tammy Wynette and George Jones.
“Don’t Bring It Around” speaks to the sobriety many Outlaws attempt to embrace later in life, that is regularly hindered by the insistence of the culture and people that surround them, while the epic “Homeward Bound” is about coming come, and coming to peace, putting a period on an album that when listening to in the midst of the recent news of Wayne’s passing feels hauntingly foreboding and poignant.
True country music artists always seem to hold on to life much more precariously than the rest of us, and that vulnerability, and the perspective afforded by walking that line between the dead and the living is what gives them the insight to speak about such things the rest of us struggle to put into words. Wayne Mills was not the most well-known, nor the most prolific of artists. But he was one of the most pure and honest of the breed, unwavering in his country music principles, evidenced by The Last Honky Tonk, and his music that will live on well beyond his passing.
1 3/4 of 2 guns up.
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