Mike West: English Hillbilly

Mike West - 16 Easy Songs for Drill and Banjo
(Binky Records)
3 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)

By Tony Bonyata

There may not be hills in New Orleans, but that doesn't mean there aren't any hillbillies squirreled away in the Vieux Carre, as Mike West proves on his latest album 16 Easy Songs for Drill and Banjo, a collection of curious tales filled with with reeling banjos, mandolins, spoons and a scratching washboard for percussion.
Although a native of Manchester, England, West has called New Orleans his home since 1993. He began his career in England in the eighties with his band Man From Delmonte. Growing tired of the rock scene he decided to pack his bag and head for the deep South of the U.S. to sit back and pick banjo. Since then he has become a favorite performer throughout the South performing his well-oiled blend of bluegrass, folk, rock along with a keen ability to tell spellbinding tales of many of the Southern characters that have both blessed and soiled his life.
On 16 Easy Songs for Drill and Banjo West, who is joined by his wife Myshkin on background vocals, mandolin, guitars, washboard and spoons, Sneaky Pete on bass, Matt Swiler on drums and Slim Nelson on harmonica, offers up 16 rustic numbers that'll make you laugh, shuffle your feet, snap your fingers and, above all, kick up your heels.
On the opening track "Yard Sale" West yelps in his Southern-trash drawl, "I bought a lawn mower. It don't cut grass. I know I don't need it. I know I don't want, but I couldn't resist it when I saw the price on it," on this fierce backwoods hillbilly stomp. "Lottery" tells of a friend who spends her winnings before she even buys her ticket, while "Thief" deals with a low-down pilfering neighbor as West and company provide a raucous, hysterical musical chase. He sings of two gay men who try, unsuccessfully, to hide their sexuality by moving to the woods on "Curtains", tears his house apart in cartoon-like fashion as he rids it of unwanted varmints on "In My House" and sings of "snakes and alligators eating up old ladies and little babies" on the twisted hick lullaby "After The Flood".
West proves he can whittle a joke out of a hickory log with his dry wit and strange, eclectic collection of characters but also has the power to carve poignancy into songs like the rich "Snow in New Orleans" and "Audrey's Wake" a tale of a friend's funeral augmented by turn-of-the-century riverboat banjo-pickin' and Myshkin's sumptuous harmonies.
He may have English blood running through his veins, but listening to this collection of toxic bluegrass songs, Mike West sounds as hick as any backwoods hillbilly around.

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