Close To Home
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
There are precious few artists keeping the sound of classic honky tonk alive in today’s fractured marketplace. After all, the contemporary country crowd that buys “product” isn’t particularly interested in the old school music of Johnny Horton that Chuck Mead loves. But as the co-founder of BR5-49 with whom he released seven albums, and as a solo artist with three previous deep C&W roots discs to his name, you can depend on Mead to keep the honky-tonking fires alive and burning.
Along comes producer/engineer Matt Ross-Spang. In conjunction with Mead, they decide to change the blueprint for solo release number four (and his first in five years). While pure honky-tonk is still very much on display in tracks such as the “Close to Home” title tune and “Tap Into Your Misery,” Spang moves Mead to record in Sam Phillips’ Memphis studio. This adds a layer of dusky swamp, blues and rockabilly to the country proceedings, expanding Mead’s palette and sound.
On “Shake,” he borrows a moody lick from Creedence Clearwater Revival. For “The Man Who Shook the World” he nails a NRBQ-styled rocker, and in “My Baby’s Holding It Down,” Mead taps into a sharp balance between pop and Americana in a slow-burn rocker with a bit of an old Eagles vibe. He’s still got his sense of humor though as you can tell just by the title of the Chuck Berry “Rock and Roll Music” rip “Daddy Worked the Pole.” It’s the story of the singer’s dad who worked on a telephone pole so his mom didn’t need to work the pole in the exotic club where they met … until they switched supporting each other.
Even further afield is the jittery reggae of “I’m Not the Man for the Job,” (Mead describes it as “rocksteady from San Antonio”) which adds pedal steel to its Jamaican rhythm for a unique juxtaposition which seems odd on paper but works well in execution. He goes countrypolitan too on the sweet Glen Campbell-influenced “There’s Love Where I Come From,” as close to a commercial single as Mead has ever come. And the opening “Big Bear” rocks hard with twang guitar reverb pushed to 10. Even the pure country of “Billy Doesn’t Know He’s Bad” has a weird lyrical twist that shows sympathy for an outlaw with mental problems.
Diverse? You bet, but Mead holds it together with his twangy, cool voice and a sense of roots that conveys he’s a country guy at heart looking to expand his boundaries … but not too far. The disc is like the best jukebox you ever heard in a sleazy, punky country bar, perhaps like the broken down Seeburg pictured on the back sleeve. Plunk down your quarter and wherever the needle falls, you’ll end up on the dance floor.