The Last Hurrah!!: Mudflowers
Rune Grammofon

It's not unprecedented for musicians of a particular era and geographical locale to draw heavily upon the work of artists from other time periods and parts of the world. The music of ‘50s American blues artists, for example, exerted a profound influence on British rock groups of the ‘60s (Cream, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, etc.), and in later decades Berlin-based producers associated with Chain Reaction (not to mention expatriate Canadian producer Scott Monteith aka Deadbeat) incorporated into their electronic productions dub techniques pioneered by seminal figures such as King Tubby and Lee “Scratch” Perry. But it's still a little bit jarring to listen to Mudflowers and not imagine one is hearing lost tapes from the ‘70s by an outfit heavily influenced by Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris as opposed to the third album by The Last Hurrah!!, the Bergen, Norway-based project led by guitarist-composer HP Gundersen. It's a remarkably convincing act of sleight-of-hand, so much so that it's almost impossible to think the album came into being anywhere other than Southern California. As the album runs through its ten songs, don't be surprised if you find your thoughts drifting to Little Feat, Ry Cooder, Joni Mitchell, Patsy Cline, et al.

Aside from the songs themselves, two things in particular strengthen the illusion: the presence of lead vocalist Maesa Pullman (of LA's Beachwood Canyon) and classic, full-bodied arrangements featuring pedal steel, guitars, organ, harmonica, strings, bass, and drums (Maesa's cousin Rosa Pullman also sings lead on two songs). As if to further emphasize the analog focus, synthesizer whooshes appears but once on the thirty-eight-minute recording, in duration a release naturally groomed for a vinyl presentation. Make no mistake: Mudflowers is an album of songs, not drones or soundscapes, one that plays like an unapologetic homage to the ‘70s American singer-songwriter tradition. Among those joining Gundersen and his Norwegian crew are American players Marty Rifkin on pedal steel, Hammond organist John Thomas, drummer Kiel Feher, and bassist Jason Hiller.

Pullman's winsome croon and Rifkin's pedal steel establish the album's endearing vibe in the opener “Okay,” after which Gundersen spreads subtle licks across the delicious “The Weight of the Moon,” an effortless blend of country, pop, and R&B. As a guitarist, the leader is an understated presence, careful to enhance the songs without calling too much attention to himself, though he does contribute a stinging wah-wah solo to “You Soothe Me.” Like some long-revered Nashville producer of Conway Twitty and Patsy Cline, Gundersen wraps Pullman's voice in strings-heavy arrangements during “Can't Wait No More,” while her cousin, with Rifkin egging her on, emotes memorably during the beer-stained ballad “Those Memories.” Everything's taut and methodically structured except for “You Soothe Me,” an extended slow blues that plays like a loose, relatively unscripted jam.

Though the harder-edged “You Ain't Got Nothing” flirts with ‘70s rock, Mudflowers is generally speaking a classic collection of country-flavoured blues-ballads rich in melody and hooks—not exactly the first kind of thing one would expect from a Norway-based outfit or from Rune Grammofon, for that matter, though such things are hardly objectionable in themselves.

September 2015