Ever since his chart-topping a cappella days with '80s jangle pop outfit the Housemartins, Yorkshire troubadour Paul Heaton has always appeared more world-weary than his years, a state of mind which has seen him comfortably slip into curmudgeonly middle age on his critically acclaimed but much-ignored noughties' solo career. His second release since the Beautiful South's 2007 disbanding, Acid Country continues to embrace his advancing years, but as its title suggests, it's a much more Nashville-influenced affair than Fat Chance and The Cross Eyed Rambler. "House Party" sees Heaton adopt an authentic Southern drawl as he recounts the tale of a street fighter's slippery slope into alcoholism against a backdrop of Hammond organs, harmonicas, and raucous singalong vocals in a nod to his own battles with the booze, something which he also tackles on the plaintive closing ballad, "A Cold One in the Fridge." His newfound Dixie leanings are equally relished on the steel guitar-laden Americana of opening track "The Old Radio," a rather U.S.-centric account of post-war historical events; "It's a Young Man's Game," an epic, seven-minute, waltz-tinged slice of melancholy complete with a rousing barroom choir finale, and the twanging rockabilly of "Welcome to the South." Despite this rather befitting transatlantic make-over, Heaton still manages to showcase the acidic wit and bittersweet Northern stream of consciousness that helped to create the staggering statistic that one in seven households in the U.K. own a Beautiful South record. "Even a Palm Tree," a barbed duet with the Moulette's Ruth Skipper ("I can't find you attractive unless I've had drugs/you're just cavemen in better cars and worse clothes") is the kind of caustic battle of the sexes that the Beautiful South became renowned for, as is the collaboration with Hem's Sally Ellyson on the music hall domestic dispute of "This House," while the title track is a hugely ambitious, eight-minute epic which starts out as a celebration of all things quintessentially British before unexpectedly turning into a Russian Revolution-style protest song, full of military rhythms, rousing chanting, and bizarrely, squelchy techno. Like most of his previous output, Acid Country is resolutely old-fashioned, but although it will be lucky to find its way into one of 7,000 households, it's still a confident and self-assured venture into country & western territory which suits Heaton's blearily nostalgic nature down to the ground.
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AllMusic Review by Jon O'Brien