Harry Dean Stanton with The Cheap Dates
The Best Little Bar Band in West Hollywood and Beyond.
More or less, I tend to swerve albums by Actors and/or celebrities for good reason; as, apart from one or two rarities they really shouldn’t ‘give up the day job.’
In Harry Dean Stanton’s defence here, it genuinely appears that he ‘made music’ for the sheer pleasure it gave him; and had no intention of denting the Hit Parade or blagging his way onto Letterman or whatever as an ego trip.
Alongside his long-term friend Jamie James they had been rocking up at Clubs and bars or wherever the mood took them for nigh on 15 years when these songs ended up being recorded. The gig at the Troubadour was booked as the duo, but James suggested calling up some buddies to flesh the sound out; said ‘buddies’ were only Slim Jim Phantom (Stray Cats) on drums Jeff “Skunk” Baxter (The Doobie Brothers), pedal steel, and Tony Sales (Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Todd Rundgren) bass, no wonder the final product sounds like the best Bar Band you never saw!
This album starts in the studio with Country Balladeer rendition of Dylan’s I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight; and it’s evident right from the outset …. that singer is Harry Dean Stanton!
Not that he’s trying to disguise it; even a casual listener would cock an ear and go …. “Is that? It is …. isn’t it? No …. surely …. but it must be!” And he sounds like he’s having a blast!
The Twang carries on right through the punchy version of Promised Land but the Harry and Friends somehow manage to turn William Bell’s epic tearjerker, You Don’t Miss Your Water into a Cowboy ballad with dark gospel undertones; and boy oh boy Harry’s harmonica will send a shiver down your spine.
In my defence I’d not heard Ry Cooder’s own version of Across The Borderline before today; so I had nothing to compare The Cheap Dates version too; but they play to their strengths and while the guitar playing is superb; it is very much a couple of paces behind Harry’s vocals and the assorted voices on windswept harmonies; making it sound like something Willie Nelson or Johnny Cash would deliver.
Even if these four songs had been released as an EP (Record Store Day?) I’d have been a happy chap; but there is the added bonus of some live tracks from that night at The Troubadour; and that’s when these cats really do come into their own.
They come out of the traps like a cat on a hot tin roof; cranking up the excitement right from the get go with a slinky version of You Never Can Tell with Jamie James’s guitar sounding like the strings were made of platinum!
I don’t know if some songs from that night are missing; but the mood immediatly drops by about 70% with Harry crooning the Hell out of Spanish Harlem as if he was in for the roll of Sinatra singing Raul Malo …. listen in and you’ll hear that I’m not wrong.
Jamie James even gets his moment in the spotlight with a stonking rocking and rolling Miss Froggy, with Harry’s harmonica challenging James’ guitar for Top Billing.
With a set-list as eclectic as this one it’s absolutely no surprise that they include Bright Lights, Big City and play it straight down the middle and I’m quite happy with that.
As I said earlier Harry and the Cheap Dates are the Best Bar Band you never saw, and what they do, they do very well with the only surprise really being that their are no surprises …… until …. the last song.
A little known song (?) from the Paris Texas movie, Canción Mixteca finds Harry singing it in Spanish with plenty of whoops and flourishes that give it an extra dimension and; do you know what? It’s my Favourite Song here; because it’s so different, passionate and so damn good.
I’m not sure how many times you will ever play this album; maybe two or three then put it in the rack; until sometime in the future someone will be looking through your CD’s or LP’s (you can’t do ‘that’ with bloody Spotify!) and judging your musical taste …. we all do it; and they will stumble across this and say, “Is this? Really? It is him …. isn’t it? No …. surely …. but it must be!
and the circle of life will go on.
Released February 12th 2021
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