When most people make a connection between driving and music, that connection is driven (see what I did there?) largely by the clichéd marketing of 80’s “Dad Rock” compilations. You know the type; open-topped generic American gas guzzler speeding down an unfeasibly empty highway, an endless desert backdrop, a sickly Tom Cruise-type grin propping up aviator shades, as More Than A Feeling or You Ain’t Seen Noting Yet or some such blockbuster tries to invoke the spirit of a youth that none of us ever even came close to having!

And that’s all very well and good, and no doubt it shifts lots of products from the nostalgia aisle of your local Amazon hyperlink. But for me, there’s a whole other library of driving imagery that floods into my mind’s eye when the right music triggers whatever psychosis is responsible for what lies dormant in the darker corners of my mind from time to time.

Think late night 3 am total darkness dented only marginally and fleetingly by milky headlights, stereo turned down low so as not to wake the partner dozing peacefully in the passenger seat, and/or the couple of kids out like the proverbial lights in the back seat, finally recovered from whatever the day’s sugar and hype mix had them climbing the walls all day. And you’re just cruising gently, engine humming quietly, no sudden manoeuvres to wake the dreamers, no sudden sounds from whatever Tom Waits or Linda Ronstadt or Little Feat album you’ve found buried under the coffee cups and sweet wrappers in the glove box. (Maybe I’ve spent altogether too many nights driving home from altogether too many far-flung gigs. Or maybe I just need to clean out my car once in a while…)

The debut album from Boston-based covid-lockdown-born band The Remittance Men definitely, definitely ticks all those driving imagery trigger boxes! Scoundrels, Dreamers & Second Sons is an unashamed feast of country-rock ballads, including a very creditable cover of Tom Petty’s Down South. The band prefer to have the style identified as Northern Country if it has to be called anything at all. Whatever works, really. I was never bothered by what music is called, I am only interested in what it does for me. And this music does lots of very pleasant things indeed.

The thing is, it’s not billed or advertised as a collection of ballads. To do so would not only have risked the album being unjustly consigned to the novelty bucket – what serious band would release a collection of ballads as their first outing?? – but would have been to reduce the collection to a far less impressive level than it deserves. Labelling it as a collection of ballads would be entirely unnecessary. Far better to allow the listener to discover the fact for themselves, gently and gradually.

In the meantime, each song stands on its own merit. There’s hardly a misstep throughout, with the writing ably and honourably complimented by assured and experienced production and arranging. But as a collection, where you might think that so many ballads strung together would get tedious or wearing, or that the band would run out of decent ideas to commit to the rock ballad format (it’s not just a matter of endless pining for lost loves and old cars, you know) you’d be quite wrong!

You don’t have to be driving from Tucson to Tucumcari on an endless mid-western night to appreciate the easy flow of this album, revel in the nostalgic pathos of the vocal delivery, and thoroughly enjoy the stories being told. You’ve heard them all before, I’m sure, but that won’t stop you for a moment from enjoying them again in this retelling.

And don’t forget to buy a second copy of the cd to bury in the glove box. You know, just in case…

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Musician, scribbler, historian, gnostic, seeker of enlightenment, asker of the wrong questions, delver into the lost archives, fugitive from the law of averages, blogger, quantum spanner, left footed traveller, music journalist, zenarchist, freelance writer, reviewer and gemini. People have woken up to worse.

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