Once Upon a Time In a Barroom
Gopher Broke Records
Soundtrack From a Closed Down Honky Tonk Bar That Still Lives In The Memory.
“Don’t panic, Mr. Mainwaring! Don’t panic!”
Yes; this is a ‘concept album’, but one that transcends that much maligned format; yes, all of these songs from Roy Holdren are about his much missed Lee’s Liquor Bar in Minneapolis, which closed down in the recent past.
The good news is he captures the magic that only a handful of bars in all our lives have; and makes these songs remind us all of the ‘special times’ we had there; usually in our youth.
In my case it was the Broken Doll, in Newcastle which was scruffy, sweaty and had more atmosphere than 100 Arenas could ever reproduce.
Apart from the diverse bands I saw play there, my abiding memory was popping in for a pint one tea time and the bar was full of guys in suits having a quick one after work, a band meeting prior to driving to some Godforsaken town for a midweek gig; half a dozen members of a biker gang, some skinheads, a couple of fellas squeezing the last drops out of a beer they couldn’t afford and some ladies in the corner blunting their senses before a night standing on street corners…the only thing missing was Han Solo and Chewbacca!
The title track Once Upon a Time In a Barroom; which sets the scene in a pretty similar fashion to my description of The Doll; and that bar you were thinking of too …. all to a maudlin and Twangtastic melody as Holdren remembers
‘the floors that could have been eaten from to the gold tuck and roll covered speakers‘,
Holdren’s eye for such detail and a Country melody is quite exceptional on Devil’s In The Detours, when he inhabits the body of a man who can’t stop ‘stopping off for a quick one’ that leads to one more ….. and if you don’t know someone like that, he might just be singing about you.
More often than not Holdren’s song-titles let you know what the following story will be; and that’s certainly the case with the haunting Pandora’s Bottle and I Can’t Remember Her Name which is as full of intimate detail that would do Hemmingway proud.
While this is intrinsically a Country album; it certainly errs on the Alternative edges and Holdren delves deeper into his Americana sensibilities than might be good for him at times.
Holdren is particularly clever the way his one verse song Once Upon a Church bleeds into Between a Church and a Bar; where he compares the two buildings and lists the things that they have in common and what both bring to his damaged life.
The way Holdren builds his stories and delivers them sounds like a man who has lived this type of life and knows others have too.
Once Upon a Time In a Barroom, draws to a fascinatingly well observed close via Bourbon legend and the pedal-steel seeped and stained The Cleaning Crew that describes the story of what happened at Lee’s Liquor Bar in the hours after the last time that the doors were locked; and that croak in Roy’s voice sounds real to these ears.
I heartily recommend that you play this album in the order that the songs come on the CD/download and you will get the best out of the songs; but that doesn’t stop two particular songs sounding like the type of songs you pray to hear on the car radio and if you did; you’d head straight to a Record Shop to buy the CD to complete the rest of the journey in its company.
Both are the type of Country Music that those kids wearing Trucker Caps, Redwings and a Cash T-Shirt think they are making; but miss the target everytime; but Holdren sings with 100& accuracy on Bakersfield 1965 which details one of my own fantasies, which is walking down a strange street in an even stranger town and hearing music from a jukebox or stage drifting out of the open doors …. only Holdren did know that bar; and it was in a back street in Minneapolis.
The other, Alcoholiday is an absolute belter as Holdren purrs his story with more pathos and raw honesty than you’ve heard since the days of George and Hank were dropping singles of this class on a bi-monthly basis; making Alcoholiday my Favourite Song by a whisker.
There’s nothing else to say really; apart from go BUY THIS ALBUM!
Released 19th May 2023
BUY DON’T SPOTIFY