I’ll be honest, I am like many other people. I spend my life wishing I was anywhere else but where I am. I would poetically say that I looked wistfully out of the window when I am at work and dreamed of another life. Except I don’t. For one thing, the blinds in the office are too thick to actually see there’s a world outside of those walls, for another, I lack the courage to actually do anything.
You blame it on the family, the football, your hobbies, whatever. The end result, though, is that I am stuck where I am.
Which is probably why I am not a singer/songwriter. Thankfully, Bob Collum is. Originally from Oklahoma, he now lives in Essex. Moving here for family reasons, yes, but also because he was obsessed with England after seeing The Beatles (although, in the notes that came with this, he reckons it was The Replacements that made him understand that he wanted to be a musician.)
“Pay, Pack And Carry” is in many ways an amalgamation of all those strands. You’d call it Americana, except – rather like Cult Of Lono – it is Americana with a very British heart and there is a grit about it too, which would surely make Paul Westerberg happy.
There is some wonderful Lap Steel to usher in the opener, “Across A Crowded Room” (a reworked version of a track from his debut record) and the clever wordplay to go with it is indicative of an artist that reckons “writing songs is easy.”
Whether it is or not, Collum and the revolving door of Welfare Mothers have constructed something wonderful here. “Catherine Row” –which like Billy Bragg before him it finds its inspiration on the A13 – has a wistful air, but goodness me its catchy too.
The title track benefits like many here, from some gorgeous lap steel from Alan Kelly (and really, is there an instrument better at conveying a sense of longing?) but Collum is at pains to stress he’s “not a country guy”. Nowhere does he prove this more readily than on the brilliant “Mr. McGhee” which is closer to the dark vaudeville of Urban Voodoo Machine than it is to the Grand Ole Opry and is built around some stunning violin from Mags Layton.
“Scarecrow” combines its jaunty musical air with some lyrics that are decidedly dark, “Hey Blue” recalls the spirit of early REM. “It might have kept the rain off, but it never was a home,” offers Collum here, while “Tin Can Telephone” and “Blue Sky Rain” are both more pop orientated, perhaps in their outlook, but they both beat with a dark heart – with the latter also benefitting form some impressive harmonies from Layton.
There are a couple of covers here too, Mike Heron’s “Log Cabin Home In The Sky” takes on a real campfire air, as fresh as the mountain dew, as the mandolin’s send it soaring. It is however, Michael Nesmith’s “Different Drum” that seems to sum up this whole thing. Ostensibly an “anti-love” song if you like, it is about doing things differently. And in that respect, that is Bob Cullum And The Welfare Mothers in a nutshell. And it is “Pay Pack And Carry” too.
File in the column marked superb.