David Payne: Last Call At The Yellow Horse Saloon [Album Review]

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David Payne
Last Call At The Yellow Horse Saloon
Magnaphone Records [2024]

Album Overview: I’m not the biggest fan of country music, but I like the good stuff—and David Payne writes the good stuff. Leader of Dayton-based country-rockers The New Old Fashioned, Payne writes blue collar songs of heartache and authenticity that draw you in with their personal touch. On his new record, Last Call at the Yellow Horse Saloon, he creates a sort of country concept album about late nights spent playing music in bars for tired and lonely people who are looking for community, love, or just a good time.

Musical Style: The album is a pretty straightforward country record that calls to mind some of the classics of the genre from the 60s and 70s. Acoustic guitars strum while the drums shuffle and the bass bobs up and down, pedal steel adding the requisite textural twang. Payne’s voice ranges from a Johnny Cash-like baritone to a higher, more plaintive register depending on the song. It’s a very rootsy sounding album, without any of the glossy production techniques that tend to ruin many modern country records (thanks in large part, no doubt, to producer Patrick Himes’ recording prowess).

Evolution of Sound: Payne’s music has always had a country tinge to it, so Last Call at the Yellow Horse Saloon isn’t that far removed from what he’s done before. However, he dives deeper into that sound than he has on any of his projects up to this point, and that consistency gives the record a cohesive feel from track to track.

Artists with Similar Fire: Fans of classic country artists like Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and Dwight Yoakam will find much to like in Payne’s current sound, and there are also similarities to modern singer-songwriters like Justin Townes Earl and Jason Isbell.

Pivotal Tracks: The album’s consistency makes it hard to pick out favorite tracks, but a few that stood out on repeated listens include ”Best Intentions,” with its driving rhythm guitar chug; the honky tonk tragedy of “Blue Lights;” and the woozy barroom rockabilly of “Just Can’t Drive.” The three-part “Yellow Horse Theme” is also a nice touch, appearing at the beginning, middle, and end of the album to tie it all together.

Lyrical Strength: The lyrical unity of Last Call at the Yellow Horse Saloon is one of the album’s greatest strengths; each song contains a unique storyline or theme, but they all feel like part of the same lyrical universe. It’s as if you’re sitting at the bar hearing the patrons swap stories while sharing a pint, becoming part of the larger narrative yourself in the process.

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Simon Workman

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