Plowing familiar territory
Reviewed November 2009
Honkeytonk and Vine
By David Serby
Harbor Grove: 2009
To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.
The third offering from Los Angeles country artist David Serby is appropriately titled "Honkeytonk and Vine." The singer/songwriter is clearly comfortable writing and performing pleasant country-rock and honkeytonk-style tunes and has a good set of pipes. He also has surrounded himself with a West Coast arsenal of slick studio aces whose work on each tune on this 12-cut disc is as good as any country disc heard in years. The result, unfortunately, is a bit short of the sum of the parts.
Serby isn't trying to reinvent the country-tune wheel here, and maybe that is the problem if there is one. The songs march out the familiar subject matter and lyrical formulas that countless above-average, polished performers already have, with nothing really new added by Serby to make himself stand out. The first few cuts are good examples of this: three-minute tunes with double-tracked vocals about stock-car racing and relationship issues that are well-executed but don't stay with the listener.
"Tumble Down" breaks the spell with a hook that connects: a country-swing tune with good keyboard and steel session support, and Serby handles the vocal like a seasoned pro. "Honkey Tonk Affair" follows, and has a rhythmic pulse missing on much of the rest of the disc. "For Cryin' Out Loud" is Tex-Mex filler, as the simple melody doesn't go anywhere. Serby's vocals don't show much expressiveness from one tune to another, as the next song is a slow ballad, "I Only Smoke When I'm Drinkin'," and the vocal sounds just like "Cryin'" slowed down. On "Don't Even Try," he is back on target with a brisk shuffle about the perennial flirt girlfriend, and "Country Club Couples" is a smart country commentary about the audiences in certain clubs. These tunes are more interesting than things like "The Heartache's On the Other Sleeve."
"Go On and Cry" closes out things on the upbeat, a rocker with a hint of Johnny Cash's "Cry Cry Cry" and featuring one of the disc's catchiest melodies.
"Honkeytonk and Vine" is a generous collection of well-crafted music, most of it familiar. Some of the tunes miss the mark, but many are quite good and definitely worth a listen.
Review by Frank Kocher, a longtime San Diego resident, musician, music collector and frequent contributor to The San Diego Troubadour.