Album Review: Pearl TN – A Dog Called Rat

The Breakdown

Whether you are a country fan or not, if you like melody and harmony and innocence and effortless musicianship then I urge you to buy this album.
Rattler Records

A ‘Dog called Rat’ is the second album from Pearl TN, self-styled ‘Purveyors of Mountain Pop’ with a pedigree in music spanning several decades and genres.
It was recorded at Charlie Harts ‘Equator Studios’ as well as at Jools Hollands ‘Helicon Mountain Studios’. Jools is a staunch supporter of Pearl TN and has given them airplay several times on his BBC Radio 2 show.

I met with Tarquin Campbell, lyricist and guitarist who, I have to tell you, has one of the most incredible faces I have ever seen that conjures up images of Santiago from Hemingway’s Old Man and the sea. However unlike Santiago, Tarquin is fourty-something and the ship he has sailed is the good-ship rock ‘n’ roll; there are no wrinkles on this face…only grooves.

Tarquin was raised on a diet of George Jones, Conway Twitty and Ernest Tubb by his stepfather, the legendary producer Denny Cordell. Denny first worked for Chris Blackwell’s Island Records before becoming an independent producer. He went on to produce Procul Harlem’s ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’ and Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help from my Friends” before relocating to the USA to set up his own label; Shelter Records.

Shelter enjoyed success with Phoebe Snow, J.J Cale, Leon Russell, Joe Cocker and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in the seventies before Denny took a sabbatical to open Flippers Roller Skating Boogie Palace in Los Angeles then pursue his other love, horseracing, before returning to record production in the nineties for Island once again where he enjoyed further success with the Cranberries and Melissa Etheridge.
The Cranberries third studio album, ‘To the Faithful Departed’ was dedicated to the memory of Denny Cordell, who signed the band to Island and who sadly passed away in 1995. Track 14, ‘Cordell’ is a sad but fitting lament to the man who made them, and so many before them, realize their dreams.

So with such an incredible mentor at home, it was no surprise that Tarquin would have music in his heart, his fingers and his grooves from a very early age.

Tarquin first exorcised his love of everything sonic with punk band “The Frozen Turkeys” before being drawn to Country music. He Disc Jockeyed for country music shows on ‘Keepin’ it country FM’ and ‘Radio Dublin’ before following the scent of the strings to Nashville Tennessee.
After imbibing on all that is country, and nowhere better than Nashville to do so, a chance meeting with an incredibly well connected pot-dealer with a bulging address-book gave Tarquin an unprecedented list of introductions to some of Nashville’s A-listers. These introductions not only gave Tarquin an enormous amount of fascinating material for his radio shows on his return to the UK but also rekindled something inside of him which made him hungry…no ravenous for the craft of writing, singing and recording…you could call it the ‘sonic munchies’

This I suspect was fate as the only pot-dealers I may or may not have ever had ‘chance meetings’ with have had no idea about public relations, let alone address books, timekeeping and the weights and measures act.

Next, another ‘chance meeting’ with established Jazz vocalist ‘Harriet James’ whose CV includes playing keyboards for Roddy Frame (of Aztec Camera fame) as well as being flown to Hong Kong in 2014 to sing with Shane McGowan and the Pogues, dueting with the great man on ‘Fairy tale of New York’ for a delighted crowd. Tarquin, still buzzing from the green green grass of Nashville, persuaded Harriet to accompany him to a Gillian Welch gig followed by a dessert of Emmylou Harris & Gram Parsons vinyl and Pearl TN was born.

Next, another friend and previous band-buddy from Tarquins punk days in the ‘Frozen Turkeys’, Ned Lambton joined the fray. Ned was drawn to the six-string Excalibur at a Ramones gig, aged 17, and is heavily influenced by the music of J.J.Cale, Hank Williams and Waylon Jennings.

This trio of Tennesseans (mostly from Gloucestershire & Wiltshire) combine their sonic and literary talents to write all the tracks for ‘A Dog called Rat’ (apart from Track 4 which is a cover of Tommy McLain’s ‘No Tomorrows now’) and are joined by four further musicians who complete the sonic wonderment of this ‘Mountain Pop’ production;

Jim Hornsby is a well known face on the country scene in the North of England and he and his Telecaster have appeared on many albums over four decades including artists as diverse as Prefab Sprout and Martin Stephenson. Jim is also a master of the Dobro, a wood-bodied single-resonator lap-guitar, named after its inventors, The Dopyera Brothers. Dobro also is a word meaning ‘Goodness’ or ‘Goodwill’ in the brother’s native Slovak.

Charlie Hart is probably best-known for his work with Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance although prior to this project, Charlie played with Ian Dury in ‘Kilburn and the High Roads’ before joining another Stiff Records act; ‘Wreckless Eric’.
Whilst in ‘Slim Chance’, Charlie played fiddle and accordion with many artists including Pete Townshend, Eric Clapton and the Small Faces.

Les Morgan is a well-respected percussionist from South London who has beat the skins for Alexis Korner and Chris farlowe as well as a host of other top UK blues artists.

Chris Ringer plays electric and acoustic bass as well as the mandolin and contributes harmonies on several tracks.

So knowing next to nothing about country music, but quite a bit about the sonic breast-milk these seven were reared on, and with a humble heart after putting this incredible pedigree to paper, I will attempt to introduce you to “A Dog called Rat”.

The cover, a painting by artist and wife to Tarquin – Sophie Thynne, introduces us to Rat; a scruffy black mutt being blown sideways on a deserted track somewhere between The Cotswold’s and Tennessee.
Next the disc itself, with its black vinyl sheen and digital grooves (artistically) resembles the 78’s of Tommy McLain’s swamp-pop era. Good start!

Track 1: ‘One night stand’ eases us gently into the album with a soft and melodic tune and a vocal from Harriet James that creates images of a soft cotton dress and bare feet in a field of Tennessee corn as the storyteller shrugs off her heartaches. Something about James’s accent and intonation makes me think of early Beautiful-South records and encourages me to continue…maybe it’s the wistful and very British accent over an otherwise deep-southern sound, like a British accent in an American film, it reminds us of the beauty and innocence of our language, irrespective of the setting.

Track 2: “Change your mind” is a little more up-tempo and my foot begins to tap as the harmonies take me back to my Laurel and Hardy days with its simple ‘30’s harmonies…this is a good thing!

Track 3: “Mrs. Jones” was always going to be good. There’s something about ‘the Jones’s’, be it Billy Paul’s (Me and) Mrs. Jones or Mr. Jones by Counting Crows, that never fails to please. Maybe it’s the anonymity of this ‘common’ (and by that I mean popular) surname or the pure simplicity of the monosyllabic pseudonym that just says ‘romance’. The pearl TN ‘hook’ is that it is a female singing to a female about the loneliness of an ‘empty nest’ and the question of identity after all that seemingly was important has gone. “Tomorrow soon becomes today, please don’t waste your time away” is one of many great deliveries on this track and the album as a whole and the weeping Dobro illustrates the mood perfectly.

Track 4: “No Tomorrows now” is a cover of Louisiana swamp-pop crooner, Tommy McLain. There is almost a little Cerys Matthews in James’ lilt that is complemented beautifully by the strings and the accordion.

Track 5: “Lying Awake” is another sad story about loss.
Johnny Cash once said that;
“Of emotions, of love, of breakup, of love and hate and death and dying, Mama, apple pie, and the whole thing. It covers a lot of territory, country music does”
He was right (of course) although I’m still waiting for the apple pie.
The harmonies and accompaniment are again flawless and effortless whilst the words are simple and sublime.

Track 6: “Bar Room in the sky” Begins with an almost ‘Wildwood” (Paul Weller) feel until the anger of the grey-haired modfather is replaced by James’s innocent treble. This is the death song (still no apple pie) and paints a happy picture of someone’s sad place.

Track 7: “Whispering Trees” has a recognisable rift for even the most uninitiated whilst the lyric becomes a little less innocent and makes promises that only the fret board can respond to;

“I’ll fry your steak the way you like me to”
“I will lay my body down”

Blimey…out goes Mama, in comes the apple pie!

Track 8: “Autumn Lights” is another ‘broken heart’ song with James’s reminiscing about days and love long gone.

Track 9: “Goodbye your love” picks us up again from the sorrow we felt for the vocalist in the last track as her positivity shines again, almost to persuade us not to worry about her, and our feet begin to tap again. This track really is an antidote to the previous sad tales and lifts you towards the end.

Track 10: “A Dog called Rat” is beautiful. “And I miss him when I go for a walk” is so simple a line but, when delivered by James, so poignant, wrapped around the fretwork of Jim, Tarquin and Ned.
After hearing the story behind this song it has gone from good to great inside me and has further reaffirmed my admiration for Pearl TN’s penmanship and performance.

Whether you are a country fan or not, if you like melody and harmony and innocence and effortless musicianship then I urge you to buy this album.

It’s definitely one for the summer so lie back in your favourite spot under the sun, with possibly a glass of Tennessee straight bourbon as you enjoy ‘A Dog called Rat’ and the green green grass of home.

“A Dog called Rat” on Rattler Records is available now to download on iTunes or to buy, vinyl grooves and all, from PEARLTN.COM and Amazon.

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