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Red Meat - We Never Close  
Review By: George Peden, CSO Staff Journalist

They come hailed as California’s finest honky tonk band. Is it well generated hype or do the claims have musical merit? Here at CSO, we’re pleased to say the merit is obvious: these guys (and gal) rock. Yep! Let them claim the title.

The band: Smelley Kelley - vocalist, Lea James - drums, Scott Young - acoustic guitar, Jill Olson - bass and Michael Montalto on guitar – is back with their fourth outing, their first in five years, called We Never Close. It’s out on the band’s own Ranchero label.

With 12 tunes – 9 originals and three covers – the album is definitely made for disturbin’ the peace and hotwiring any Saturday night party. My suggestions? Move the furniture and push the faders high, as this is music made for playing loud. The rug moving two-steppin’ will follow as a natural.

Produced by master Blaster Dave Alvin, the album is a mix, a solid mix, of honky tonk and balladry. The package comes wrapped in crafted playing and lived-in vocals from the band that formed in a Mission District garage in ‘93.

“Honky Tonk Habit”, one of five Scott Young tunes on the album, opens the set. Spirited with the band pushin’ the throttle hard, the tune is vintage honky tonk. The drumming drives, the guitars are loud and twangy, all riding keenly on a tune made for a corner jukebox.

“Pretty Little Lights Of Town”, the harmony-rich and karaoke-inducing “Go On Home, Mr Johnson,” and the gospel-inspired, Dottie Rambo-penned, “I’m Gonna Leave Here Shoutin’ are personal favorites. The polished instrumental, “Moonrock,” proves there’s practiced versatility in the variety.

Jill Olson shows in addition to a voice made for the genre, she capable of pulling some of the album weight by offering 3 tunes. ‘I’m Not The Girl For You” is a tear-soaked tale of lovin’ and leavin’ – a perfect heartache for Olson’s sensitive and honest sharing. Her other cuts, “Thrift Store Cowgirl” a tune of hoped-for day dreaming and “Queen Of King City,” with Olson’s ambition of making a geographical mark, all prove that a gal in the band, when she’s as talented as Olsen, is a recording plus.

My take on We Never Close? I loved it. Two weeks on high rotation in my car gives you the clue. It’s a fun outing. It shuffles along with a steady presence, pulling you towards the floor with every tune. Musically, there’s not a dud in the pack. For an album of honed and lyrically satisfying tunes, this is one band not to miss when they hit your local bar; and this is one album you need for the collection…after all, they are California’s finest.


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