WE'RE HOOKED Andrew Martelle (l) and Jay Basiner are partners in outlaw-country crime.
I know: Why do you need a North of Nashville album when they’re probably playing nearby as you read this? There is unquestionably no paucity of opportunities to see these two honkytonkers do their twangy thing. But if frontman Jay Basiner hasn’t won you over by the end of a four-set gig on the back porch of Brian Boru or in the bar at the Rack after a day of skiing, then you’re probably something of a grumpy dick. And if Basiner has, indeed, worked his charm, taking home the duo’s debut, self-titled full-length is an appropriate way to say thanks.
Nor will you regret the purchase. These are easy songs to like and if you throw them into a mix of tracks from Highwaymen like Willie, Merle, Kris, and Johnny they’ll filter in comfortably and provide a few new songs from a genre that’s mostly petered out. Whatever might still be left of “outlaw country” has mostly become the kind of overproduced pap that manages to find Tim McGraw pumpin’ Lil Wayne on his iPod and guys with open shirts and shaved chests playing brand-new acoustic guitars in front of spotless pick-up trucks.
That sure as hell doesn’t describe Basiner and his partner-in-crime, fiddle player (mostly) Andrew Martelle. Basiner has just about worn his guitar out, a la Willie, and Martelle is a top-drawer fiddle player, leaning on this record more toward Charlie Daniels than Vassar Clements.
Most of all, though, they make their stories of blue-collar work and simple pleasures both believable and endearing. It’s hard not to think of outlaw countryman and Maine icon Dick Curless when you come across “The Working Man,” which appears seventh on this crisp 10-song album and is clearly the band’s anthem. “I have no reservations about getting my hands dirty, night and day,” Basiner announces from the open, and the brand of country that follows— with bass drum and high hat alternating beats to emphasize the boom-chick rhythm (Basiner plays with his feet while strumming the acoustic guitar) and Martelle trading fiddle riffs with Basiner on harmonica (yes, he does this too)— is as literally workingman as it gets.
The chorus lets you know why all that on-stage sweating is worth it: “While they’re running ‘round in circles, this working man will cross the finish line/ And I’ll be eatin’ good come supper time.”
Certainly, it’s true that Basiner has made more of his particular reservoir of talent than many of his contemporaries locally. He has been determined for the better part of a decade to make a career out of music, and he has steadily progressed from doing covers as J. Biddy through the transformation of This Way from blues rockers to alt-country jam band. With Martelle, though, who first joined him in This Way, the pair has managed to turn what was mostly a side project to earn extra cash into a legitimate touring band, leaving This Way, as notable Nashville resident Gillian Welch might say, by the wayside.