Formed in 2016, four-piece The Outlaw Orchestra‘s debut Pantomime Villains is available to pre-order now, for release on 29th May, and we’ve been checking out their upbeat, entertaining genre-spanning 10 tunes, that’s being released on Voodoo Queen records.
From the deep south of England, they consist of David Roux (guitars/lead vocals); Ryan Smith (drums/percussion/vocals); Pete Briley (banjo/lap steel/vocals) and Alex Barter (double bass/vocals); these chaps vow to bring the party to you, whether that be at a gig or in the close comfort of your home, which (more than ever) could be very welcome right now!
But, of course, with everything fun, does their first album fully embrace everything they represent and does that raw live, energy come across in Pantomime Villains? While some moments really holds an impressive impact, not every track is as strong as the last but I recognise a lot of promise here. The overall question is whether the band are aiming to hone their craft to a specific audience, as sometimes the multi-genre hopping approach can be just as distracting as it is provocative.
Blending the likes of bluegrass, rock, heavy metal, jive and the self-titled ‘heavy grass’, it can be challenging to pin down your way in but the opening two tracks Take a Bow, a story of taking the moment in the moment itself, and running with it, plus live favourite Chicken Fried Snake is more than encouraging.
The latter, especially, is oddly original that comes with a Metallica/Queens of the Stone Age essence, as well as a Tenacious D undershirt, but they’ve all been dipped in the deep bluegrass south, laid out before you, and they’re all here for the festivities. This track gives you a cracking example of the force these boys can possess, something that doesn’t always convert well from gigs to the record for everyone, but here they’ve captured it. In truth, it’s an absolute killer.
Hanging Tree is another fast-flowing, banjo-plucking jive-around and with a catchy pick in the middle. Whiskey Drinking Liar has that old-school blues-rock-riff going on, it’s a little bit ‘song-by-numbers’ but you sense that it’ll be a fun live one though. Maybe with whiskey shots along the way?
However, there are instants were you feel like you could easily dismiss The Outlaw Orchestra as more of a comic-music-act as they have an occasional edge of the farcical, but then – without even realising – you’re also tapping along and quite genuinely loving the musicianship, which is strong when they want it to be and when we’re there, it’s clear they’re having a lot of fun.
Jumpin’ Jive is old-fashioned rockabilly tune, exactly what you expect from the title, and then It Happened Again smartly brings down the vibe, and gives you an important breather. On this, they talk about wasting money on guitars and forgetting to pay for all the ‘important’ things in life. It works to lower the tone and level out the mood, thus giving their other power tracks more impact. This also celebrates the wider songwriting, which is well crafted, especially in songs like Too Much Willie Nelson.
While it feels naturally harder to take them as seriously as the likes of The Dead South, who offer up much stronger overall songwriting, but I’m only comparing on this occasion because of their gig exploits. For a lot of Pantomime Villains, I felt like this is a band you need to see in the flesh, because the pure playfulness may not come across as clearly or freely on the record as it might be possible to.
That being said, and with four years together, this album captures the spirit of a band testing out their confidence and maybe the education of this debut will give us a more structured, exciting look to the next. There are so many moments to admire, and an occasional middle-section that’s too easy to skip, but I can’t say there’s room for any cynics because when they hit the big moments, they spark an explosion of adventure, obviously with beers and whiskey, that you’d love to be a part of.