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Artist:     The Horsenecks

Album:     Started Out in Town

Label:     Tiki Parlour Recordings

Release Date:     3.5.2021

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Depicted in a 1967 Polaroid gracing the sepia-toned cover of Started Out in Town is an almost empty Mathew Street in grey, old Liverpool, home to The Horsenecks’ Barry Southern. Showing closely packed buildings lining a narrow thoroughfare the scene seems at odds with the revisionist duo’s deep devotion to grassy Appalachian weavings and old-timey Americana. Then again, Southern isn’t originally from these parts.

Rustic and earthy, The Horsenecks’ third LP shows their faith in homespun harmony singing, spare balladry and fast, traditional bluegrass churns hasn’t diminished. Indulging in lively, toe-tapping tangles and tumbles, such as those of the wheeling, yet tightly knit, instrumentals “Melvin Wine’s Uncle Pen,” “Shag Poke” and the thrilling medley “Cotton Eyed Joe/Sand Lake,” the unrepentant revivalists aren’t shy about showing off their inventive chops. Wild fiddle forays from Gabrielle Macrae, the yin to Southern’s banjo-rolling yang, excitedly whittle and saw each of those tracks into wordless piles of dust.

Altogether different and set adrift in stark melodic melancholy, “Wave of the Ocean” and “Going Across the Sea” make for lovely folk expressions of seafaring wanderlust, which Southern must have in his blood, being from an English port city and all. Just as affecting as the dark, funereal dirge “Hangman,” they are the most literate chapters of Started Out in Town, as “Going Across the Sea” is etched with achingly beautiful vocal harmonies, well-plucked acoustic guitar and romantic adventure.

Equally adept at three-finger and clawhammer banjo techniques, Southern goes from gracefully picking and gliding his way through a dreamy “Lost Gander” to charging pell-mell across the title track in full gallop. Had they connected earlier, he might have accompanied Macrae on her youthful travels to the American Southeast, where she studied the fiddle as a teen and gained clawhammer expertise herself, while soaking up the area’s musical history, brought back to life again on Started Out in Town.

—Peter Lindblad

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