Elvis Costello has a lot to answer for. Love him or loathe him, you can’t deny Costello’s influence on modern British music. The skittish, new wave pop of the likes of Two Door Cinema Club and The Cribs; the relentless as provincial rain singing of Alex Turner and Jake Bugg and the crooning of band leaders like Richard Hawley, all owe a debt of gratitude to one of our greatest songwriters.
Costello’s country influence however, has taken a lot longer to cast a shadow. It was 1981 when he released Almost Blue, an album of mostly country covers, and 1986 when he followed it up with the T-Bone Burnett-produced, King of America.
Both records sold well here and in the States and Michael Weston King and his wife Lou Dalgleish were big fans. You might remember Southport-born songwriter Weston King from his time with cult favourites, The Good Sons. And those who recall Seven Streets crowing about Weston King and Dalgleish’s ‘They Call Her Natasha’, up at the Everyman Theatre, back in 2011, will recognise the latter’s name.
The husband and wife duo have collaborated before. But never like this – as they’ve released a country music record as My Darling Clementine, recorded with a range of top session players, and are currently touring it around the UK.
“We’re just back from America,” Weston King tells me, ahead of their Mello Mello date this month. “The band are sounding great… the players just get that country sound. Between them, they’ve played with the likes of Costello and Van Morrison and they’ve just got the right feel.”
My Darling Clementine’s debut album, How Do You Plead?, may have only been released in 2012 – but it was recorded a while before. “We had it in the can for a while,” reveals Weston King. “A lot of the major labels liked it – but they wouldn’t release it! We worked so hard on it and I’d worked really hard writing the songs specifically for the duets to work, so we wanted it to come out properly.”
The record eventually got an independent release and reviews have been fantastic. Across the board, a lot of people seem to agree that it could be the best country album ever recorded by a British group.
“I’m really pleased with the sound of the record. It’s got that really warm feel you want… even if everyone playing on it is English! Everyone was hand picked for the recording (and now live) and I’m glad we didn’t record it in, say, Nashville. The modern country sound can be generic and we were going for anything but…”
The sounds and songs put you in mind of Glen Cambell, Emmylou Harris, George Jones and, yes, Elvis Costello: “We were after that authentic sound that Costello achieved with Almost Blue,” reveals Weston King. “Radio 2 have been playing the single, so I guess we’ve updated the sound too! But that record really was the key that opened the door to country music for me…”
There are other influences at work too. You can hear a touch of the 1990s alt-country sound of Whiskeytown, Wilco and Lambchop in there and the songs are great: “We worked really hard to make the record sound like two people having real conversations! The songs were written as duets and Lou and I worked on the harmonies in our kitchen – being married and together for 12 years, there is definitely a sixth sense when it comes to singing together.”
You can tell. It’s the singing and the songs that really make this record. And they’re what will make it so special, when My Darling Clementine visit Mello Mello this month. “I hear the venue has had some issues recently,” asks Weston King. “But I’m glad we’re playing there, as it seems the local community rallied around and that’s what we’re about. I’m really looking forward to the gig.”
And, it’s more than just a gig, we hear: “Definitely. It’s a show: the look of the band, the theatrics of the duets and the songs always seem to put a smile on people’s faces,” laughs Michael.
Take a chance – no dogs die and it’s not country music as you know it. These are great songs, played with warmth and commitment, with two great singers putting on a show out front. And the gig will be perfect for the intimate surroundings of Mello Mello.
“It’s nice for Lou and I to be up there, singing to each other. And it definitely adds something to the songs live,” says Weston King. You’ve been warned.
Sparks might fly – just make sure you’re there to catch them…