John Surge and the Haymakers - Almost Time
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Almost Time (Blackbird, 2023)

John Surge and the Haymakers

Reviewed by Jim Hynes

John Surge's 2019 debut "Your Wonderful Life" nodded to several southern California bands such as San Diego's Beat Farmers that made an impression on the budding songwriter in the '80s. Surge is back, but with a different mantra on "Almost Time," recording in Texas with the pedal steel player Tommy Detamore who both plays on (all but three tracks) and produces the album.

Surge's longtime collaborator, guitarist Randy Volin, joined him along with Texas-based musicians on this round – bassist Brad Fordham (Dave Alvin & Guilty Ones), drummer Tom Lewis (Junior Brown, Heybale) and piano ace Floyd Domino. Brennen Leigh joins in harmony on all but one track.

This is, as you may have guessed, a retro country record steeped in honky tonk, cry in your beer songs and dancehall fare. "You're So Right" bookends the album with its radio edit as the closer. Volin's reverb soaked twangy guitar is paired with Detamore's pedal steel to announce the driving instrumental feature of these 10 tracks. This is the kind of song you sing at the top of your lungs while cruising down the highway, realizing it didn't take the guy long to traverse the "I think I love you" to "I think I'm gone." The galloping momentum continues with "Rattle Me," a blissful ode to how this woman makes him feel ('rattle me good"). Detamore switches to electric guitar and together with Volin's axe and Leigh's harmonies, they drive "Tricks of the Trade," lessons in heartbreak.

Tempo ebbs for the ballad "I Should Have Known," where Surge is the dejected or spurned lover absorbed in self-pity. "Lesson I Never Learned" is a hard-edged thematically connected tune that Detamore sits out while Volin plays fiercely.

The title track continues the country rock, but the dancehall country picks up again with "What Were We Thinking" as Detamore returns along with filler Jess Meade. "Big Train" features wailing harmonica, guitar, and duet vocals from Chip Kinman in a cover of the hit from Rank and File. "All You Gotta Do" is another honky tonker and the standout uplifting "Sister Honeybee" is rife with gorgeous harmonies from Leigh.

Whether in Texas or California; Surge's love and inherent feel for solid country music never wavers, proving here that he's got the songwriting knack too.

CDs by John Surge and the Haymakers

Your Wonderful Life, 2019

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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