ROCKY MOUNTAIN PLOUGHBOYS
"The Rocky Mountain Ploughboys" - Illicit ILLCD001
Hobby bands - all the
right people have 'em, from Mike Rutherford's Mechanics to Mark Knopfler's
Notting Hillbillies, and now comes our equivalent in Brian Peters' side
trip outfit, the Rocky Mountain Ploughboys. These are mates of Brian's from
way back, that gig together for the sheer buzz of making a pleasing racket,
and you'll find them equally at home in the public bars of Greater Manchester
or on Ironbridge Bluegrass Festival concert stage. Is this, though, just
an indulgence on Peters' part, or have the 'Boys a validity in their own
right? A four-piece, the band is as far away from Brian's image as a New
Traditionalist with a penchant for ballads as it's possible to get, but
the CD is unambiguously excellent from the opening "You Can't Get That Stuff
No More" (Tampa Red) to the closing "When The Shepherd's Flocks Are Gathered
In" (unknown!). You'll gather that the music comes from all eras and spans
bluegrass, old-time, country, blues, rock'n'pop, and the songs have an easy
glow with consistently hookful arrangements reminiscent of the Lovin' Spoonful.
With everything recorded live in the studio, like all the best bands the Ploughboys sound like they're enjoying themselves. It's not an offence to enjoy creating music, and with such eclectic material as "Sunsets On The Sage" from the wonderful Commander Cody Band ("Mama Hated Diesels" next time fellers?) through the Delmore Brothers to Mick'n'Keef's "Only Rock'n'Roll", to me at any rate they have a focussed approach to repertory that really works.
Aside from Brian on accordion and guitar, the line-up comprises Dave Pope on fiddle, mandolin and guitar, Graham Buckley on bass, and Bonz on guitar, dobro, banjo and harp. It's all acoustic and the swapping around of vocals, harmonies and lead instruments combines to create a sprawling good-time enterprise with a DIY feel. There are jagged, rockier edges a la "Back In The USA" from Chuck Berry's golden era, and ragged, engaging stuff like "Big Ten Inch" from the risqué Bull Moose Jackson (who recorded for King in the 40s and 50s). This is a disc that reveals its charms quickly - it's so immediate that toe-tapping commenced instantaneously around these parts, and with excellent musicianship (although they wouldn't take themselves so seriously as to admit that!) there's an inescapable sense of a real band dynamic.
There will be more acclaimed roots albums released this year, but few more enjoyable. A band to keep an eye on.