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JP Harris and the Tough Choices

I'll Keep Calling – 2012 (Cow Island)

Reviewed by Stuart Munro

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CDs by JP Harris and the Tough Choices

On the cover of his debut release, there's a drawing of J.P. Harris making a call -presumably an unhappy one to someone back home - from a truck stop, which gives you a sufficient idea of what you're going to encounter when you hit the play button. The fact that he's using something you don't see much of anymore to make the call - a pay phone - is nicely congruent with what you'll hear, too. Harris and his aptly-named Tough Choices play classic honky-tonk, and they play it well.

Equally important, Harris has the voice to sing it well, and the pen to write it well; all of the album's songs are originals, often displaying the influence of the likes of Del Reeves and Johnny Paycheck, both of whom Harris has a penchant for covering in his live shows.

For the most part, "I'll Keep Calling" is a series of tear-in-your-beer laments, by turn shuffled (Two For The Road), slowed down (The Day You Put Me Out), swung (Take It Back), or sad-and-slobberin' (Just Your Memory), all slathered in pedal steel whine and Telecaster twang. The heartbreak is complemented by bad choices - Return to Sender lays out the unremitting wrath of a woman scorned one too many times, set to a freight-train beat, while Cross Your Arm details the fallout from a precipitous decision to get inked with the name of a short-lived girlfriend ("somehow, this idea seemed perfectly sane," sings Harris).

Throw in a bit of novelty (I'm Stayin' Here) and a trucker song that wouldn't sound out of place on a Dale Watson record (Gear Jammin' Daddy) and you've got yet another prime serving of old-style honky-tonk from a label that seems to have an unerring knack for finding it.