In 2005, The Beau Roland Band was invited to play a Willie Nelson tribute night at the Abbey Lounge in Cambridge, Mass. They presented Willie's The Red-Headed Stranger, front to back. It must have been one hell of a night because throughout Northern Hospitality, the Willie Nelson style lays ghostlike behind Phillip Ouellette and band, Ouellette's voice just a whisper of Willie's here and there, and one can only imagine what Ouellette could do if he really tried. No, Northern Hospitality is no tribute, at least not to Willie or any one person. It is, however, a collection of songs which remind us just how much fun music can be. Any music. Some might call this alt.country, but it is really country.alt—country and rock without all of the unnecessary intensity alt.country bands bring to the plate. The big difference is, these guys can play but they'd never tell you so.
Guitarist and lead singer Ouellette wrote all of the songs with the touch of the country troubadour. Some are thoughts, some are stories, all are lyrically driven. Some make you want to dance, others make you laugh. This is what country music used to be before the posers took over, songs written for the song's sake. With lines like "I oughta knock you into next week, tell you where you can go…" (Why I Oughta) and "I'll get caught and I'll prob'ly fry but I couldn't let that cheatin' harlot lie…" (Where Delilah Lay), Ouellette loses the frills without losing the point. Maybe this ain't Willie, but it is Beau Roland and for many, that will be enough.
The recording reflects a 'live' approach to the studio and works very well. The four members of the band laid down a live version of each track , then went back for overdubs. The dubbing is sparse, most songs good enough to fit well within the four man band structure, but on a couple, most notably 229 Years with its dixieland motif, it is magic. In places, the simple addition of fiddle takes a song around the bend, so to speak, and makes it that much better. Credit for such touches can be laid at Ouellette's feet. The guy can write.
The Beau Roland Band is one whole lotta country for one band. The really good thing is that they balance the twang with the rock so you don't even notice on a lot of the songs which makes it easily accessible , even for the country music cynic. Listening to this, I kept thinking, boy, would I have loved to have seen that tribute to Willie.
Ouellette has a side project known as The Lone Oak Boys which deserves a word or two as well. With a name like that, you might expect more Beau Roland, and on a couple of tracks, you would be correct, but there is another dimension within this band. Ouellette, probably influenced by his fellow bandmate and father Dennis, steps into the fifties and sixties with deft touch. Half of the songs on this disc, including covers of The Beatles' I'll Follow the Sun and Loudon Wainwright III's Dead Skunk, are pop-slanted to just the right degree. To such a degree, in fact, that pop artists looking for material which has that retro feel and sound should consider giving Phillip Ouellette a call. Songs like My Heart Was Made For You, with its fifties pop rhythm and melody, and I Got You With Me, with its Skip & Flip style vocals on top of what could have been another Marmalade hit from the late sixties, are amazingly palatable and, dare I say, even really good. Country-alt. Peppers the disc as well and it is well done and very much Beau Roland-esque, thanks to Ouellete's writing and vocals.
An aside about one track on the Lone Oak disc, Missy. An acoustic tone-poem written by Dennis Ouellette, it moves between soft floating melody and a more classical guitar sound in a captivating way. A beautiful guitar melody which is way above the mundane.
Now, seriously, if anyone knows of a DVD of that Willie Nelson tribute, let me know. There's a hole in my collection in need of filling.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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