june 2009

He Means To Hang Around

By David McGee

David Serby
David Serby: Extra-terrestrial origins and bred-in-the-bone hard country and honky tonk

David Serby Honkeytonk and VineHONKYTONK AND VINE
David Serby
Harbor Grove Records

Somewhere along the way some critic is going to refer to David Serby as "neo-honkytonker..." The one problem with such an assertion, while technically accurate, is its obliviousness to this Southern California artist's extra-terrestrial origins. There's nothing neo- about his third album, Honkytonk and Vine; it's true blue, bred-in-the-bone hard country and honkytonk by one of the most engaging young artists on the boards today. In the same way that Duffy emerged practically untouched by anything recorded after the 1960s, so does David Serby seem to have dropped in from a place where he was insulated from the most annoying trends in country music of the past decade or two. No hat act, this, even though he wears a hat; no warmed-over '80s arena rock thievery; and he's not a washed up hair metal artist stumbling over himself trying to assert his lifelong, blatantly dubious love of roots music with the most formulaic, cynical, bloodless sort of prefab tripe imaginable (are you listening, Jon?).

No, the good Mr. Serby and his producer Edward Tree seem to have spent a lot of time soaking up the ethos of Messrs. Yoakam and Anderson when they were a dynamic duo—there's a good deal of appealing reverb on Serby's agreeable vocals, lots of twang to go around, and a few other sonic tricks Dwight and Pete used so effectively in their heyday: the robust, soul organ adding an extra cushion of heartache to the vivid melancholy of "Honky Tonk Affair," the Tex-Mex accordion spicing up the sprightly jig of "For Cryin' Out Loud," a lonely man's lament contrasted by a bright, high-stepping south of the border arrangement, for instance. And though Serby's lyrics are not even close to the sort of apocalyptic personal debacles Yoakam outlines in his poison pen letters to lovers who dumped him. Serby's a bit more genial, or more Zen, about his romantic misadventures and where they leave him. "I'm a cross-eyed cowboy falling off my stool" is how he describes the effect a comely lass has on him in the rambunctious, rockabilly-redolent album opener, "Get It In Gear"; amidst the Dwight shuffle and twang of "You're Serious," he complains, "You treat men like toys," but it has none of the malevolence of the classic Yoakam kiss-offs we've become acquainted with in classics such as "Ain't That Lonely Yet"; and about the meanest he gets is when he croons amiably, "You'll be the saddest girl around/because when you look around/there won't be nobody chasing you" to a gal who just won't be caught in "Chasin' You," as he gives up the ghost of romance with this particular tart. Elsewhere he offers up one of the coolest drinkin' songs in recent memory in the acoustic-based, steel-drenched honky tonk weeper, "I Only Smoke When I'm Drinkin'," and in the brisk shuffle of "Country Club Couples" he acknowledges both some sly slippin' around and class co-mingling, you might say, in its depiction of upper crust couples trysting with others "on the other side of town." This latter even has a melody and arrangement reminiscent of some of Carl Perkins's early, country-tinged Sun sides, ditto for the aforementioned burner, "Get It In Gear," and it's been a long time since you could sense the spirit of the Original Cat in a contemporary song. Doug Sahm, Ernest Tubb, even a little Skynyrd ("Go On and Cry") inform a few other tracks, as Serby conjures a vibrant, colorful honky tonk world of his own making. There's a lot of meat on the bone here already, and Serby gives every indication of being an artist who can give you a lot more to chew on as time passes. Good enough on its own merits, Honkytonk and Vine is equally intriguing for what it says about Serby's staying power. He means to hang around.

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (www.johnmendelsohn.com)
Website Design: Kieran McGee (www.kieranmcgee.com)
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY; www.flickr.com/audreyharrod), Alicia Zappier (New York)
E-mail: thebluegrassspecial@gmail.com
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024