Boy, what a treat this is. Two traditional country performers who just happen to be man and wife sharing one record. Who rekindle the art of duet performances better than most of the originals. Fans of older country music will feel they have died and passed through St. Peter’s Gates once they hear the opening bars of this album and be like Oliver when it is finished hunger for more!
From the opening note and chord played the couple drop into a priceless groove. Loaded with fiddle (Reggie Rueffer), steel guitar (Doug Jones) plus sensitive percussion (Bubba Crumpler), lead and bass guitar (Luke Warmwater) wrapped ‘round the voices of two singers country through and through this the business. If that wasn’t enough, they are both excellent songwriters. ‘It was our mission to once and for all, define ‘our sound’ by merging sounds of the historic Bakersfield fame and the timeless feel of the Texas shuffle, but when it was complete, we ended up with a self-portrait of sorts. Lyrically, we shared a lot of ourselves’, quotes Bob on the liner notes. As for Kimberly, she speaks of how they were both raised in the Pentecostal Church, and how both their mothers were huge Buck Owens fans. With her music firmly entrenched in that of the Texas Dancehalls and Bob’s West Coast Country they experimented and came up with this modern day (vintage sounding) classic.
With not a hint of weakness on any one track it makes it difficult to select any genuine standouts because they are all top quality as one classic barroom tune follows another, the fiddle doused ‘Lovin’ In Three Quarter Time’ that takes the listener up through Kentucky too (lyrically and via mandolin, instrumentally). Once Manning kicks it away the couple seem to be joined at the hip regards combining styles, as they work seamlessly through the 12 tracks plus a bonus piece, ‘Devil Makes No Change’. Hold on to your britches as lead and steel pop their straps on the instrumental ‘Bunkhouse Breakdown’, it also has some fine tinkling piano thrown in.
‘Loves Me Right’ with the cameo phone call played out has Bob lean on Conway Twitty’s hit ‘Hello Darlin’. ‘When I’m Drunk’ has Kimberly speak of waking on a morning after a few too many lying beside someone she thought looked better looking the night before. The age old theme comes over brilliantly as a duet. To close Manning takes a trip down to the Mississippi Delta for the bluesy country ode (a tribute to Robert Johnson) ‘Devil Makes No Change’. Written by Manning with lead guitarist Jim Denno it is a fine song, a little swampy on featuring Rhodes organ (Blake Padilla) and different from Bob and Kimberly’s usual work. With Manning and Murray providing superb, evocative lyrics images ranging from small diners, barrooms, early morning cups of coffee after a heavy night are conjured as motel rooms and road houses and more come to mind as ‘Blame This Mess On You’, ‘From Where I Came’ and the slow, painstaking fiddle warmed ‘Three Chords Away’ ease on by.
When it comes to country duet acts, the 1960s – 1970s threw up a bunch with of course Conway and Loretta, George and Tammy and Porter and Dolly the big ones plus, in the 1980s we had David Frizzell (Bob's vocal style leans heavily on that of the Frizzell heritage, especially David's older brother Lefty Frizzell) but they weren’t as consistent as Manning and Murray. Despite enjoying a number of country hits! With both acts having released five-star solo albums in the past few and now this, they are going to have busy schedule over the next few months plus be under great pressure to make another duet album.
Surely it’s now official – duets are back in style! To the delight of many country fans there have been quite a few notable duets albums of late, and One Night Only will be essential for those who long for the days of Tammy and George or Conway and Loretta.
Bob Manning is an Oregon- based honky-tonker in love with the Bakersfield sound who happened to make one of the best releases of last year, and Kimberly Murray is one of the darlings of the Heart of Texas roster who can give Amber Digby a run for her money when it comes to traditional Texas Dancehall country. They are also real-life husband and wife so perhaps this record was inevitable. I’d known it was in the pipeline for some months and really enjoy both artists’ individual work, but I never expected it could be quite this good.
I adore the deep, laid back, and instantly recognisable timbre of Bob Manning’s voice. It’s like a hug after a bad day that makes your troubles fade away. Kimberly Murray meanwhile is sounding better than ever here, and is edging ahead in my book as the finest female singer from the impressive HoT roster. Each of them has brought their own brand of country to the table in an attempt to define what they call “our sound”. The album was recorded in Manning’s own studio and the Heart of Texas studios in Brady, and the amalgamation of west Coast and Texas styles works perfectly, although it could be argued that the Bakersfield sound was heavily influenced by the dance music of the Lone Star State in the first place when workers migrated west to find work in California.
The songs are all original, and Bob ‘n’ Kim have been inspired by their influences to create a stunning piece of work. Many of the songs are dated in a good way. The sensational Same Battle Fought Yesterday, probably my favourite track, sounds as though it was written in 1970. Had it been, it would have been a massive hit. It seems destined to be one of my songs of the year.
Also superb is the slow-ish shuffle of Good Mornin’ Darlin’ which opens the album, and the clever Lovin’ In Three Quarter Time, which references some of the all-time great country waltzes. Three Chords Away meanwhile, which Kimberly tackles alone, is one of the best stone country ballads I’ve heard in ages. Oh, and the backing vocals are superb. All are further enhanced by some captivating fiddle courtesy of HoT’s Reggie Rueffer (again). When I’m Drunk is a nice gender reversal of the beer goggle phenomenon and contains some great lines like “To say I was the worst / just shows I’m not the first / mistake that you’ve ever made”, while Cheatin’ Side Of Life is another song that could have come from the late sixties. Always a sucker for good cheating song I was immediately drawn in, and there is a nice twist when Manning’s vocals come in for the last third of the song.
Instrumentals rarely do much for me, but I can quite understand that sometimes singers like to let the musicians who contribute so much to a recording have a bit of a workout, hence the inclusion of Bunkhouse Breakdown at the end of the album which should have just faded out like the end of a movie, but there is then a bonus track which doesn’t really fit with the rest of the album, Devil Makes No Change. It’s one of those “selling your soul at the crossroads” blues tributes which may be fine, but it just doesn’t sit right on this album, and the record would be more “complete” without it. However, does a bonus track count towards the rating of an otherwise outstanding release. No... and not when the rest of it is this good.
Country Music People Magazine