Published Feb 11, 2020What's worse than being called a mamma's boy? Being taunted by none other than Tami Neilson for needing a parental loan, of course. The Canadian-born, New Zealand-based alt-folk singer-songwriter belts out that insult to her deadbeat beau on "Call Your Mama," the opening track from her excellent new LP CHICKABOOM!, in a snarling twang that could convey her scorn with tone alone.
That first song's deliciously fierce lyrics and resounding guitar and drums drive the point home, and instantly hook listeners for a ten-track Americana brouhaha that evokes the pointed simplicity and precision of the classic Sun Record Company. The locomotive rhythm of "Ten Tonne Truck," for instance, harkens back to the Tennessee Two that backed up Johnny Cash during his Sun stint. The fluttering strumming of "16 Miles of Chain," meanwhile, will make you want to toe tap in your best pair of blue suede shoes.
Chalk that steely minimalism up to Neilson's new backup setup, which consists of brother Jay on bass and rhythm guitar, Delaney Davidson on lead guitar and Joe McCallum on drums, a far smaller crew than the fulsome band that made her preceding album, SASSAFRASS!, sound so gargantuan. Neilson recently told The New Zealand Herald that she'd pare that leaner group down to a mere trio for live shows. That pragmatism suits these efficient new songs well and — more importantly — lets Neilson's outsized voice take center stage, exactly where it belongs.
And oh what an instrument those pipes are. From her practically skat delivery on "Tell Me That You Love Me" to her show-stopping adlibbed laughs and acute phrasing on "Ten Tonne Truck," not to mention her gut-wrenching braying on "You Were Mine" and delicate, Mamas and Papas-esque harmonizing with Jay on "Any Fool with a Heart" — it's clear that Neilson has a jukebox worth of vocal styles to delve into. No wonder the Man In Black himself recruited Neilson and her fellow musician relatives to be his opening act back in the day — she proved then, as she does on CHICKABOOM!, to be a worthy successor to the Sun Record sound. (Outside)