My Darling Clementine is the name of UK husband and wife team of Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish, each with a track record ahead of starting to perform together some nine years ago. King was the leading light of mid-90’s Manchester Americana band, The Good Sons, who managed to take, with relative acclaim, their coals to Newcastle, recording and touring alongside and under the wing of Townes Van Zandt. A later solo career saw him working with Jackie Leven, and a feature of his occasional forays alone sees him play the songs of both Van Zandt and Leven, in a set of two halves. His wife has similarly had a career of her own, notably with her 2001 play “They Call Her Natasha,” self-performed and written and featuring her versions of the songs of Elvis Costello. The songs, some of which crop up on her other albums, also formed the basis of a tour.
Since 2010 they have put out four albums, in sometimes barbed tribute to the male/female, often husband/wife, duets of ’60s Nashville, and these have been extremely well received. The second, The Reconciliation, was described by Country Music People as “the best British Country record ever made.” Now they’re back with Country Darkness, Volume 1.
This project sees a return to the works of Elvis Costello, and accommodates some of his more overtly country tinged moments, including his early song “Stranger in the House,” as duetted with George Jones and covered by Rachel Sweet. Sadly, this is only a four-song EP, though “volume 1” suggesting sequels in the offing. A trump card here is the presence of Steve Nieve, longterm Costello sideman as both Attraction and Impostor, whose piano is exemplary, less frenetic than with his boss, more evocative of the great Glen D. Hardin (Elvis Presley’s TCB band and Emmylou Harris’ Hot Band.)
Dalgleish’s is the first voice to be heard, her tone proving a malleable instrument, capable of showing both strength and frailty, often together, woven from heartstrings being pulled. King has a golden baritone, perhaps the voice Costello wishes he himself might have. Singing a verse at a time, choruses see them meld together, a coalescence of familiarity that shows more than just practice. On other songs, Dalgleish can change her timbre, managing both to recall her heroines and to have a character of her own. At times one could be mistaken for hearing this as King performing with a selection of different singers. Similar, yes, but she can vary the emotion, tempering the measure of soul and sweetness as to the song.
The other songs include “Heart Shaped Bruise,” which Costello originally sang as a duet with Emmylou Harris, so no pressure there, but actually becoming the strongest interpretation here. “The Day is Done” was famously written with and for Paul McCartney, and “I Felt the Chill Before the Winter Came,” features some appropriately somber brass. That last was a co-write with, astonishingly, Loretta Lynn. Is this how she would have done it?
I hope this is an idea to which they return. Irrespective of the strength of their own material, this should certainly widen their audience and draw greater attention to the quality of their capabilities.
Country Darkness, Volume 1 tracklist:
1. Heart Shaped Bruise (Elvis Costello & the Imposters cover)
2. Stranger in the House (Elvis Costello & the Attractions cover)
3. The Day is Done (Paul McCartney cover)
4. I Felt the Chill Before the Winter Came (Elvis Costello cover)