Highway Bar Music, Side Room Serenade | Album Review | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

Seven Days needs your financial support!

Highway Bar Music, Side Room Serenade 

Album Review

cd-serenade.jpg

(Howlin’ Dog, CD)

Northeast Kingdom’s Highway Bar Music is a brand-new entrant into Vermont’s crowded Americana scene. The countrified boyfriend-girlfriend duo of Ryan Arthur and Elisabeth Kaldor began as a studio side project nearly two years ago, but they didn’t play their first show until January of this year, at Burlington’s Radio Bean. That show also served as a release party for their debut EP, Side Room Serenade.

The EP was recorded in the side room of a double-wide mobile home, hence the title. And as those humble surroundings might suggest, the disc is a rather low-rent affair, thematically speaking. That’s hardly a novelty in country music, of course. But while the EP boasts some blue-collar credibility, that authenticity ultimately proves superficial, as its five songs are limp imitations of the classic and outlaw country heroes the duo parrots.

Side Room gets under way with “Mama Don’t Approve,” which apparently wants to be a contemporary companion — or at least an homage — to the Merle Haggard classic “Mama Tried.” “Turned into a hedonist and Mama don’t approve,” sings Caldor with a signature pitchy warble. At times her off-key ruminations exhibit a kind of reckless, hillbilly charm, especially on lines such as “On my day off, I drink beer in my bathing suit.” But by song’s end, lighthearted zeal devolves into redneck stereotypes so trashy and awkwardly phrased they almost feel like parody.

Relief is slow in coming. Where Kaldor’s delivery is stilted and almost uniformly out of tune, Arthur’s is stilted and only slightly less out of tune. The pandering to country platitudes is still intact, though — if not heightened to uncomfortable new levels. On “Old Bones” Arthur sings in an overly earnest growl, “Drinkin’ and pain, they was my weakness in life. / Worked fifty hours a week just to get by. / But on Friday night, I’d go to the townie bar. / Life was always grand there. / Yeah, for sure.”

And it gets worse.

If Christopher Guest were to give the Spinal Tap/Mighty Wind treatment to country music, the result might sound a lot like the wince-inducing duet “Fight Like Cats and Dogs.”

The following track, “Badness,” um … lives up to its name, with Arthur miscast in the role of a barroom badass.

Finally, the cliché carousel comes to a stop with “Dirty & Dragged Down.” As with each track before it, the hackneyed phrases come fast and furious, and Kaldor’s delivery is predictably awkward and off key.

Side Room Serenade could almost work as a satire, were it not so obviously a labor of love. Sadly, it functions as little more than an unfortunate first attempt.

Got something to say? Send a letter to the editor and we'll publish your feedback in print!

About The Author

Dan Bolles

Dan Bolles

Bio:
Dan Bolles is Seven Days' assistant arts editor and also edits What's Good, the annual city guide to Burlington. He has received numerous state, regional and national awards for his coverage of the arts, music, sports and culture. He loves dogs, dark beer and the Boston Red Sox... more

Comments


Comments are closed.

Since 2014, Seven Days has allowed readers to comment on all stories posted on our website. While we’ve appreciated the suggestions and insights, the time has come to shut them down — at least temporarily.

While we champion free speech, facts are a matter of life and death during the coronavirus pandemic, and right now Seven Days is prioritizing the production of responsible journalism over moderating online debates between readers.

To criticize, correct or praise our reporting, please send us a letter to the editor. Or send us a tip. We’ll check it out and report the results.

Online comments may return when we have better tech tools for managing them. Thanks for reading.

Latest in Album Review

Keep up with us Seven Days a week!

Sign up for our fun and informative
newsletters:

All content © 2020 Da Capo Publishing, Inc. 255 So. Champlain St. Ste. 5, Burlington, VT 05401  |  Contact Us
Website powered by Foundation