The Topp Twins: Honky Tonk Angel (Topp)

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The Topp Twins: Palamino Moon
The Topp Twins: Honky Tonk Angel (Topp)

To be perfectly honest I went off the Topp Twins very quickly: around the time of the Women's Web Collective album Out of the Corners of '82 and in a few subsequent years I thought they were terrific and iconoclastic, and their stage shows howlingly funny.

But then their humour seemed to become more tame, mainstream and -- at a time when sophisticated comedy was all over television -- I found their rural, Fifties style exceedingly safe, the characters long-gone cliches and not a little dull.

I probably also had a bad yodelling experience as a child, and that didn't help.

I caught a few albums along the way and, well . . . They weren't for me.

This album however, with a few misgivings (and there's yodelling in a couple of places), is something quite different: produced by Don McGlashan and with his Seven Sisters band (and other guests) this gets to the heart of classic country music with a local twist and damn if I can't feel a warm waft of the Pacific in some places (their version of Iris DeMent's Infamous Angel, Lynda's beautiful Mustang Mountain).

They acknowledge Patsy Cline in the title track, Jools' exceptional and slightly melancholy ballad Palamino Moon up next tells you something special is happening (even if you don't like yodelling) and by the time I got to their sensitive treatment of John Prine's Speed of the Sound of Loneliness I was in heart-meltdown stage.

That said, I look at a TT song with the title Calf Club Day with trepidation (it isn't what you might think but yet another gorgeous ballad).

Yes, there is an aw-shucks countrified factor here (their own knees-up'n'fiddle with yodel on Holy Cow, lesserly so on Keiran Kane's Town This Size) but they also bring a funkyreggae-style version of Hirini Melbourne's Nga Iwi E to the party.

However it is the many original pop songs and ballads with their gentle production, harmonies and deft musical embellishments (World, Throw Down Your Guns and Milestones in addition to those mentioned) which really impress here. 

Cleanly produced, impeccable musicianship and revealing an emotional and deeply sensitive side of the Topps which I hadn't heard before, this really is quite a revelation to me.

Although I am not the most qualified person to make this comparison, I suspect this is best album of their career. Untouchable, right? 

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