The Las Vegas Hillbillys was a movie musical (circa 1966) about a rural individual whose family inherited a Las Vegas casino and so he set out to convert the place into a good ole country ‘n’ western venue. You can see why HILLBILLY VEGAS adopted the exact same set of themes and values for their band project when you combine their love of moonshine memories, rural folk jiggery, a little light humour, and tales about daily struggles against the odds.
Last week RAW RAMP saw the dog-eared (though never entirely knocked down) Oklahoma rockers at an extremely rare acoustic show at London’s legendary Troubadour club.
The Troub, in Old Brompton Road, was founded in 1954 as a folk ‘n’ jazz venue and has hosted (among many others) Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, as well as Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and Elvis Costello. So the hillbillys were in good company!
The band’s new studio album ‘The Great Southern Hustle’ successfully captures the fervour and excitement of this band’s superlative live atmosphere while showcasing Steve Harris’ outstanding lead vocals, Stacy Thornburg’s and Johnny Reed’s exquisite guitar work, and Troy and Heath’s rock-solid groove. Their ultramassive vocals enhance the granitiform heartland nature of this band’s top-notch compositions.
So the acoustic set in London started with a Don Williams number ‘Tulsa Time’ (by the way: these boulevard phoenixes like to segue into classic country-songs without fanfare and prior notice!) The number brought perception and insight, and was performed with brilliance and spirited motivation.
Their own songs tell stories, and often those stories are profound and heart-tingling, and reflect upon a simple life in rural Oklahoma that revolves around ‘farmers and preachers.’ The most successful single of their career was probably‘Shake it Like a Hillbilly’ which is a workmanlike convergence of rock ‘n’ roll heaviness and liquescent, twiddly, country-twang. But the acoustic rendition of ‘High Time For a Good Time’ in London had boogie-bouncing bronco sways and lots of interesting textures. The light lyric, sung gleesomely by Steve Harris (back in the Nineties, he was a singer for the Texas iteration of Cold Ethyl) is about enthrallment & bewitchment with a singalong chorus that’s both groovy and tempting.
Possibly the most powerful and moving number of their London unplugged show was ‘Long Way Back’ a beautiful song that was written eight years ago (2015) for lead singer Steve Harris’s grandfather, who was a war vet, and who didn’t know if he’d ‘ever get back home…’ Yet, although this might have been written about country roads and family recollections, and about bringing back a loved ones from hellish war, it was meaningful and pertinent to those who gathered at London’s Troubadour club to witness the show. We all felt the same, we feel the same today, because we all endured damages and depredations during the Covid emergency. We share the sentiment: ‘it’s a long way back…’
So, if you like ‘A Little Bit Country, a Little Bit Rock ‘n Roll’ (thank you Donny & Marie) and you don’t know if you’re ‘happy or sad’ but you do know that you prefer a laid-back Country rock feel, we heartily recommend HILLBILLY VEGAS. They exude good-natured camaraderie, and inventive and fluid talent in everything they do. You may get a fair idea of what this band is like if you can imagine the grinning Bob Seger, possibly with a hint of Waylon Jennings, bouncing with Bon Jovi on stage (the late 1980s version of Jovi) at a Harley Davidson convention in the Wichita Mountains. Yes, they’re that good! See for yourself!
Grab the album here: https://slinky.to/TheGreatSouthernHustle
Words and images: @neilmach 2022 ©