One of the great things about country is its honesty. When you turn on a good country song, hear that familiar plucking and that classic message “I’m just hanging around this little old town,” it’s impossible to believe that this is anything but true. These are just simple country folk, telling us about their simple lives while feeling the twang of that familiar music.
So naturally, the first time I heard Whiskey & Co., I felt as though I’d been stripped naked and flogged with ugly lies. The album starts out with the classic country sound and the message “I’m trying not to be sad, but I’m going nowhere fast,” and leaves you expecting nothing less that straight-back country music. But when girl-next-door Kim Helm starts singing about cocaine, Demerol, chasing women, and getting high, mixed with the southern ideals on drinking and life, it’s easy for the listener to feel used. Helm is able to pull off a good part of the songs and gain her audience’s trust, but when she starts singing lyrics that are apparently written for a male vocalist (“All you bar room women, I like you best”), the band loses that honest connection with their audience. They also lose the effect of regionalism as it is hard to imagine southern rednecks approving of Helm chasing those bar room women.
Luckily for Whiskey & Co., this honest facade isn’t all there is to the genre. The band pulls through with that timeless country sound, with that good old plucky guitar, back-up banjo, and occasional fiddle work that adds depth. They are pretty close to perfecting stereotypical country music, save perhaps the vocals. Helm’s voice is perfect for slow, soft songs; she’s got a sweet, silvery voice that is very similar to Jewel, with the added twang. When the pace picks up, however, the mannerism of country music requires a strong vocal section to make up for the played-down instrumental parts. Though it seems that she has the potential to fulfill her responsibility with strong singing, she never gets enough air behind it, and leaves the music sounding sweet, but not quite satisfying.
According to press releases and band descriptions, Whiskey & Co. is attempting an infusion of today’s alternative country and “the punk rock attitude.” This description, however, doesn’t quite hold true to their aural makeup, which is almost purely common country. If anything differs from this band to their genre’s forefathers, it’s their own personal lives and their occasional drug tendencies.
Though parts of Whiskey & Co.’s approach are somewhat disappointing, the album on the whole isn’t bad. What they lack in originality they make up for in classic sound signatures, and despite being without any outstanding songs, they’ve created a good selection for anyone who’s in need of something mild and sweet. The limited verity in the lyrics and the dearth of strong emotion in the vocals can be forgotten after a few minutes.
(No Idea Records)