Fans of Dwight Yoakam listen up: There’s another Dwight on the country music scene and he lives in our very own backyard. On the Salty Dogs’ latest album, “Autoharpoon” (Big Bender Records), Marked Tree native Brad Williams does Dwight better than the man himself. The resemblance is perhaps most obvious on the album’s second track, “Starting Now,” an up-tempo song about a summer fling that’s faded on which Williams’ high-nasal twang two-steps across a simple melody. For that song, the Little Rock-based group sought out famed drummer D.J. Fontana, who played with Elvis Presley for a decade and a half. Williams approached Fontana via a shot-in-the-dark e-mail, asking him to play on the track. Luckily, Fontana was interested and available. Bart Angel (percussion, drums), Mike Nelson (bass) and Nick Devlin (guitar, lap steel) round out the group.
Williams wrote all but three songs on the 12-track “Autoharpoon,” and in his originals, he exploits traditional country themes but does them straight-faced, somewhat surprisingly. If you’re half-anticipating a tongue-in-cheek take on these honky-tonk topics (something that Colorado’s Slim Cessna’s Auto Club does best), you’ll be disappointed. This, folks, is pure country, or pure vintage country, so much so that I can almost hear Dale Hawkins saying, “They just don’t make 'em like this anymore.” On “The People Cried,” you’ll find a man working at a paper mill trying to put food on the table and shoes on his kids’ feet (wanting only “the bare necessities”). While Williams’ lyrics are easy — predictable, even — they come off as honest rather than trite. On “Holding to My Lord,” the prettiest song on the album, Williams moves effortlessly from country to gospel with the help of Virginia Williams (background vocals) and Steve Brauer (banjo).
The Salty Dogs, who essentially formed to win a battle-of-the-bands contest a few years back, have gone on to put out albums that have the spirit of country and the grace of Southern gospel. Here you have feel-good, down-to-earth (but not down-on-the-farm) stuff that’s sure to satisfy the die-hard Dwight fans and those of us who aren’t quite willing to admit that we are.
— Nicole Boddington