‘THE HARDEST WORKING BAND IN ROCK N ROLL.’
Apparently that’s what Little Mammoths, ex- Noah And The Whale bassist Matt Owens’ new band have been called; apparently they’ve been known to play 8 hour long sets in the past! But does that perspiration and hard gigging, on its own, make their music automatically worthwhile? Do all of those shows make their second album ‘Cargo For the Road’ (perhaps the most roadie title for an album I have ever seen) any good? Let’s find out together!
‘I wanna shoot the shit with Steve’ sings frontman Matt on opener ‘Get Me Back to Austin’, which is one of the best things here, possessing a pleasant toe-tapping brass-laced piano strut. This good-time song is like much of this long player – an honest love letter to the music of the south from a British band. Its galloping toe tapping percussion sounds like The Replacements without the edge and despite the country buzz words; it’s a fair beginning.
Lead single ‘Hungover in New York’ fares less well though, an overly worn, hackneyed bar room ballad, redolent of the strumming MOR of Del Amitri meeting the cheesy lyrics and Yank tinged emoting of Bon Jovi. It’s like rocking back and forth next to a roaring fire sipping a bourbon and coke whilst falling into a stupor of boredom. The syrupy ballads and predictable mid-paced rockers are the worst offenders here, lyrically cliché ridden (references to ‘riding‘ ,’drinking‘ and ‘playing‘ scattered throughout) and generic. They are laced with a kind of inauthenticity that suggests they are in awe of a genre rather than excelling at it. So you have the mawkish Dylan-esque without the bollocks on ‘She Came in From the Storm’, the country by numbers ‘Komono‘ and the saccharine ‘His Last Ride’, which all follow a similar trot on a horse to nowhere. ‘First Light’ is a bit better in the dynamic stakes; this earnest bar room ode to a life on the road, with its pattering drums and spindling slide guitars supplied by pedal steel player Joe Harvey-Whyte, gradually builds to a crescendo something approximating the commercial 80s work of Bruce Springsteen.
Everything about Little Mammoths screams: “WE ARE MUSICIANS! WE ARE COUNTRY FANS!“. From the sepia-tinged artwork featuring an acoustic guitar to the corny lyrics and predictable homage to the classic Americana sound they make. If you like easy, good time country and passionate Americana, maybe you’ll dig some of this record, but they lack the lyrical energy of their influences The Hold Steady or the subtetly of Wilco. But ‘Cargo for the Road’ stinks of real music, leather jackets and cowboy boots and country cliches. There are a few reasonable efforts here and maybe they’re a good live band – the eight hour non stop gigs at least show they have stamina – but that’s more of a Guinness Book Of Records winning achievement than something worthy of trumpeting as artistic merit isn’t it?
On record they sound largely tedious, obvious and possess very little to hook you in or surprise you. Indeed as soon as you read ‘good time country rock‘ you can predict every note and chord before you’ve heard it. Maybe you want a trip into this familiar sound but the biggest indictment is that after most of the songs are over you simply don’t remember them. We are told that dreary Glastonbury headliner Ed Sheeran is more worthy than other pop stars merely because he can play an instrument and writes some of his songs, but is worthiness enough to excite and interest on its own? I think, in the case of Little Mammoths, it isn’t.
Cargo for The Road is out now.