12 songs – 42 minutes
Eric Corne is not an easy man to categorize. The founder and President of Forty Below Records is also an award winning producer/engineer and songwriter with over half a dozen Top 5 Billboard Blues albums to his credit, including Walter Trout’s recent We’re All In This Together. He has worked with a wide range of rock, blues and country artists, including Joe Walsh, John Mayall, C.J Chenier, Glen Campbell, Michelle Shocked and Lucinda Williams. He released his debut album, Kid Dynamite & The Common Man in 2008 to widespread acclaim. It has taken 10 years for him to release his sophomore effort, but the wait has been worthwhile. Happy Songs For The Apocalypse is a vigorous collection of Americana, with rock, pop, blues, folk and country all blended together.
Despite the large number of different musicians and the wide range of instruments used on different tracks, there is a sonic and thematic consistency to Happy Songs… that is based around Corne’s smartly-structured, self-penned songs and vibrant production skills. Corne himself contributes (at different times) lead and harmony vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, bass, harmonica, ukulele, percussion and whistle. He is aided and abetted by a throng of musicians, including Sasah Smith, Bo Koster and Skip Edwards on keys, Eamon Ryland, Walter Trout, Doug Pettibone, Nick Luca and Rick Holmstrom on guitars, Blair Sinta, Michael Leasure, Matt Tecu and Andrew Crosby on drums, Ian Walker, Ted Russell Kamp and Joe Karnes on bass, Freddy Koella on violin, David Ralicke on horns and Lara Wickes on Theremin.
The opening two tracks lay the foundations and expectations for what is to come on the rest of the album. “Mad World” kicks things off with a dreamily strummed acoustic guitar, echoes of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers in both the melodic structure and intertwining pedal steel, Theremin and finger-picked electric guitar, and socially aware lyrics: “If we stumble, if we fall, find our backs against the wall, revolution of the world begins to stall.” The grinding blues-rock of “Ridin’ With Lady Luck” immediately follows, with Trout taking the lead guitar break.
Corne’s “kitchen sink” approach to making music is evident in the likes of “Locomotion”, which features horns, harmonica, steel guitar and even cowbell on a track that sounds like Ginger from the Wildhearts has joined the Traveling Wilburys. There are even hints of Uriah Heep’s “Easy Livin’” on the fadeout. And somehow it all works magnificently.
Highlights abound, from the always-potent Rick Homstrom’s typically shin-kicking guitar on the upbeat pop-rock of “Pull String To Inflate” to the catchy terrace-chant chorus of “Short Wave Preachers”, which wouldn’t sound out of place on a Pogues album.
If you were being picky, you could say that Happy Songs… doesn’t do anything that hasn’t already been done before, but what distinguishes it from many other albums of Americana is the almost punk-like attitude to the songs. The album cover itself recalls the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind The Bollocks in its use of “ransom note” style lettering. But there is also some serious attitude at work here, both in the socially aware lyrics but also in the approach of the various musicians who attack the songs with real gusto whilst still retaining musicality and melody.
Happy Songs For The Apocalypse may not be blues, but it is an impressive and highly enjoyable collection of modern Americana.