Mike and the Moonpies

Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold

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Mike & the Moonpies wrote and recorded Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold in secret, sneaking off to London's Abbey Road Studio to cut eight songs with the London Symphony Orchestra. Such clandestine maneuvers may not have been necessary -- the country band had yet to establish a significant presence outside of their hometown of Austin, Texas -- but they helped accentuate the gap between Cheap Silver and Solid Country Cold and its crackerjack predecessor, the rip-roaring Steak Night at the Prairie Rose. Where that 2018 LP was steeped in American juke joint tradition, cribbing equally from Bakersfield twang and Texas shuffles, Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold is designed for late nights illuminated by cheap neon. Sure, there's a fair number of ballads here, but much of the record is rooted in the netherworld of the early 1980s, when hardcore country was perched between tradition and supple Urban Cowboy productions. The strings accentuate the lushness that is inherent in the music. Sometimes the songs glide by on candied pop melodies, the way they do on "Miss Fortune"; sometimes they gallop along, like they do on the clever closer "London Homesick Blues"; sometimes, they hang suspended in time, as they do on "You Look Good in Neon" and "If You Want a Fool Around." There is just enough variety in tempos and approach to give the album momentum, but they're tied together by Mike & the Moonpies' decision to treat barroom heartache as if it was a cinematic epic. That trick is why Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold leaves such an indelible impression: it's an album caught in a haze just out of time, floating upon its own enchanting spell.