There’s just something about 2019 that makes this the year of Americana duos, especially male-female tandems and partners-for-life couples. Already we’ve had releases from Mandolin Orange, Shovels & Rope, Silver Lake 66, ESOEBO, and next week we’ll be hearing from Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis and, at long last, Buddy and Julie Miller. (probably missed some in that list too). Each of these duos certainly have their merits, and the bigger names may cause some to pay less attention to duos like the Truehearts. Do not fall into that trap. Songs for Spike runs the gamut from raw to visceral to glorious and even tender. No two tracks sound alike. The use of guest musicians to change up the sound is brilliant. Producer-guitarist Dave Coleman brings his A game as usual. In short, this is a killer album
Steve McWilliams and Debra Buonaccorsi are the Truehearts. They relocated to East Nashville from the DC/Baltimore area a few years ago as the Hummingbyrds and released a terrific, but largely under the radar album called Purgatory Emporium. Songs for Spike is their first under their new moniker and it’s an auspicious beginning. Debra sings, plays acoustic guitar and keyboards while Steve handles acoustic and electric leads along with Coleman on baritone guitar. Brian Hinchliffe (bass) and Pete Pulkrabek (drums) hold down the rhythm section for cameos from Richard Bailey on banjo (Steeldrivers) and Paul Niehaus on pedal steel (Calexico).
The opening “Won’t It Be Something” features a two-piece horn section for a blaring, exuberant sound that never reappears. “Sunshine and Violets,” like the former, has glorious choruses though and maintains the high energy of the former. Then comes the album’s centerpiece, driven by Bailey’s banjo, “PFC Frankie Walker,” with his nickname “Spike.” Its up-tempo minor key groove is the backdrop for a World War 11 story where the character Steve’s mother was 15 and Frankie was 18. He shipped out, went ashore on D-Day+1 and was killed two months later. This, like several others, perhaps threading as the theme of the album – dealing with the cards you’re dealt in life.
”Manzelle Marie” carries that Bo Diddley beat with another ebullient chorus. “Hey Hey” has an infectious reggae beat that keeps the song rolling steadily along until the chorus (Wow! they are good with those) rocks into another gear. “Let It Sing” is an ethereal folk song leading into “52nd Street” that rocks and shakes you with its jangling guitars. Hints of Petty, McMurtry…whatever it’s down and dirty and feels good. “Late July” features a memorable guitar pattern and offers some calm as does the piano ballad “Goodbye,” with Debra in the lead, giving the album its tender farewell.
This is as eclectic as any album can get but somehow it all hangs together because it’s so well thought out, arranged, and brilliantly executed. It’s not just a harmonious blending of voices; it’s that and the blending of so many styles that hit on a wide range of emotions too. Other bigger name duos will undoubtedly earn coveted awards, but the Truehearts are likely more deserving. This album is several cuts above the rest.