Joyous 60s R&B from Nashville husband and wife team – The Twangtown Paramours
Release Date: 2nd February 2022
Label: Inside Edge Records
Formats: CD, Streaming
It’s dancing around the handbags time again! Nashville husband and wife duo The Twangtown Paramours (this time with a little help from a slew of talented friends) have come up with a fantastic straight-ahead, good, honest collection of songs to take us all right back to the halcyon days of The Flamingo Club, 1966, on their new album, Double Down On A Bad Thing. And it’s a compulsive, foot-tapping stonker!
Normally, the Paramours specialize in Americana, blues and things over on folky end of the continuum, and they’re very good at it. Over the years they’ve become used to being showered in awards and accolades and their first two albums, the eponymous The Twangtown Flyers (2010) and The Promise of Friday Night (2012) – both of them acoustic – hit the heights in the Americana and Folk charts. But: Now for something completely different… Double Down On A Bad Thing takes the band on a sharp left turn to explore, with the aid of a full electric band – “a delicious fusion of Americana rock, Memphis Blues, Motown and 60s-era Beatles-inspired retro pop.” Those last words are The Paramours’ own, and they’d be pretty well on the button, if a dose of Stax-influenced classic R&B was also added to the stew.
But please don’t get the impression that Double Down on a Bad Thing is all about nostalgia and recreating a lost past. Not a bit of it. The Paramours are merely referencing the past to remind us all what can be done in the future – as Mike T Lewis, guitarist, bassist, keyboardist, vocalist and principal songwriter is keen to explain: “Though the vibe is vintage, this album isn’t some kind of retrospective. It’s a reminder of the strength, confidence and we-can-do-anything attitude of the early 1960s. It’s meant to be an inspiration for having fun and making better things happen. We want people to have fun, to cheer up, to dance, and to start sporting a positive attitude, dammit!”
Before we go any further, perhaps a little background info is in order. Now based in Nashville, The Twangtown Paramours are (the aforementioned) Mike T Lewis and his wife MaryBeth Zamer. They met in 2009, found that they had an intuitive musical affinity and took it from there. Mike was born in New York City and began learning classical and jazz guitar at the age of eight and is a graduate of Columbia University and The Grove School of Music. MaryBeth hails from Washington DC and was raised on mix of opera and American Songbook music, before moving on to discover influences like Little Feat and Bonnie Raitt. She was a backing singer in Eva Cassidy’s band for a spell and, indeed, takes a lot of the cues for her singing style from Eva.
For Double Down On A Bad Thing, the core duo have enlisted the services of Shawn Pelton, who plays drums and percussion on every track, as well as Dave Keyes (piano and keyboards), Rave Tesar, Steve Conn and Ed Alstrom (piano), Will Barrow (organ), Mark Deffenbaugh (lap steel), Gary Dibenedetto (pedal steel), Dan Nigro (horns) and Vinnie Cutro (trumpet) who all add tasty contributions as the situation and the groove merit. The album title comes from a phrase overheard in a Las Vegas casino a few years ago.
The album’s title track (one of two single cuts that have already been in circulation) gets things underway, and it’s a cracker, full of Creedence-like guitar licks, solid bass and drums, Stax-like horns and soulful vocals. This is music for everyone: Dusty, Amy or Duffy with a rocky edge; Joe Cocker with a layer of polish. The smoky, soulful That’s What the Blues Are For keeps things moving; guitar and organ combine wonderfully and MaryBeth gives a tantalizing taste of what she can do with those vocal chords of hers. And, a special mention for Mike’s bass playing is in order – it’s as solid as granite. You could build a mansion on the foundations that he lays for every single track on this album.
The lyrical message of Talk About Peace (the second of the singles) is, of course, particularly relevant in these troubled times and it’s a message that’s delivered with real mid-sixties Motown feeling. I love the way that Mike rations his guitar licks to supply exactly what’s needed and without any over-elaboration, and the end result is a song that is certain to become a Twangtown Paramours live favourite.
Anyone But You is, in contrast, almost a ballad. MaryBeth’s vocal is soft and intimate – at least, that’s how it sounded to me after the earlier soulful histrionics – and a jangly guitar lick and a soft, subtle drum rhythm complete the picture. Strident vocals, a guitar lick that rings a distant yet familiar sixties bell, girl group backing vocals and a solid rhythmic drive all combine for the funky Comin’ Back. Mike plays another sublime guitar solo and the whole package is wrapped in some really tasty organ licks – it’s an excellent track.
Mike takes the lead vocal for the punchy, sleazy Whoa Nellie, a delicious slice of pure 60s R&B. Listen, close your eyes, and you’re back in 1966! Guest Steve Conn plays some wonderful piano and MaryBeth hits the highs and the lows with equal precision in Love is a Stranger, a soulful doo-wop number, reminiscent of Sam Cooke’s Bring It On Home To Me. Mike plays another precise, understated guitar solo, whilst Steve follows him doggedly on piano.
Things get poppy and raucous for Some Other Day, perhaps the closest the Paramours get to emulating their Beatles influence. It’s a song that brings Please Please Me-era Beatles into the 21st Century in a way that’s sufficiently authentic to be able to imagine that it’s George taking the guitar solos. The lively, Wilson Pickett/Marvelettes soul model that features most strongly on Double Down On a Bad Thing gives way to an intimate, sentimental Marvin Gaye style for the delightful, sophisticated I Miss Who I Thought You Were. Mike takes the lead vocal once more, using a voice that’s half-spoken and almost whispered. Rave Tesar plays a delightful piano accompaniment and Gary Dibenedetto tops the whole thing off with some delicate touches of pedal steel.
MaryBeth has the kind of voice that makes her sound kind and approachable, even when the song’s lyrics are laced with spite and reproach – as they are in the bluesy, rock Sincerely Yours No More, a break-up song, spiced with nice, dirty slide guitar.
The core album is brought to a close with Alright Again, a piano ballad elevated to gospel heights by Dave Keyes’ organ and taken to a shimmering climax by MaryBeth who sings at her soul-filled best. It’s a breathtaking end to an excellent album, except there’s more! Bonus track My Gingerbread Man is a naughty, pervy, poppy slice of Christmas fun – Brenda Lee’s Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree with a bit of X-certificate yuletide canoodling thrown in for good measure. With lyrics like “Pressing against the window with my nose/ My toes are froze” and, particularly “Kiss my lips with your cinnamon spice/ Let’s get naughty, it’ll be so nice” it’s just the song to get the party heading off to where it shouldn’t go!
As you’ll have gathered, I think that Double Down On A Bad Time is a fantastic album. Fun, irresistable and packed with top-quality music. I could go on, but I’ll leave the last words to MaryBeth: “It’s our hope that, while listening to this record, people will smile and dance around their living rooms like nobody’s watching. We may be living in difficult and divisive times, but if a good groove and musical energy can help change people’s mindsets to one of positivity and hope, this is the album to do it.”
Watch the Official video to My Gingerbread Man – the album’s bonus Christmas track – here: