I promise friends and neighbors, I am not in the back pocket of the Canadian Ministry of Country Music. No, my dad was not secretly from Saskatchewan, nor do I have a maple leaf tattooed on my ass, stimulating a secret desire to push Canadian country. It just happens to be that many times when I roll up my sleeves and delve into the infinite stack of albums to review, I’ll be damned if here in 2012 it hasn’t been many of the Canadian ones making the cut.
The Give ‘Em Hell Boys are a get your elbows swinging and your knees knocking “okay let’s go!” good time fun-loving country band. Barn Burner is a wild-assed frolic through country and bluegrass laced with punk undertones, with moments of great playing and songwriting, and a fun time throughout.
The Give ‘Em Hell Boys do a few things on this album that traditionally would be deal killers. Like what? Like pulling off poor renditions of Southern inflections in their singing, or I don’t know, covering New Order’s hot dance club song “Bizarre Love Triangle”. Though the instrumentation is always pretty good, this album is pretty consistently sloppy, with players walking all over each other and spats of timing issues.
All of this is atoned though by approach. This is a silly, fun-loving band that never takes themselves too seriously. And by conveying that fun vibe and taking a gutsy, blue collar approach to their music, you not only listen through the flubs, at times you find them endearing. And that “Bizarre Love Triangle” cover? That may be the best song on the album. It and a a cover of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” may garner all the attention at first, but the meat of Barn Burner is blazing original honky tonk numbers about drinking, sin, and redemption.
There’s some songs and moments where every single person in the band is playing as fast and as hard as they can making a punk-esque blaze. But other times The Give ‘Em Hell Boys lay back and give you moments of surprising compositional brilliance, especially in the two cover songs. They also surprise you with excellently arranged and performed 3-part, and sometimes 4-part harmonies. Trumpet, accordion, and a slew of guest players give Barn Burner a fleshed sound, and in a few songs like “Play Hank Williams At My Funeral” I can hear a slight Acadian influence in the music.
I know I called some of the sloppiness on this album endearing, but what really intrigues me about the Give ‘Em Hell Boys is what they could become if they got just a tad sharper. Everything here is in place: the writing, the singing, the playing and the approach. This is one of those prototypical first albums that speaks to tremendous potential. What’s creating the parity in the “punk gone country” world is so many of the bands are taking the same dark approach. The Give ‘Em Hell Boys have a dark streak too, but they do it with a sly grin, yet don’t cross that line into hipster-ific sarcasm either. It’s the Jason & The Scorchers approach, but with more players and more twang for a full, more country sound.
I really enjoy listening to Barn Burner, and really excited to hear what The Give ‘Em Hell Boys have to offer in the future. Until then, I will be wearing my copy out.
1 3/4 of 2 guns up.
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