The title may suggest some sort of raggle-taggle, clattering country infused bluegrass, but Billy Roberts and his musical posse are in much slicker territory that it might first suggest. Well, I say slicker, all things are relative, and he has always come from a rough and tumble, bar band sort of place rather than the over-produced rhinestone Music City sound anyway. All I’m saying is The Grand Ole Opry this is not. Though there is a lot of the American South going on here, made all the more ironic considering the bands actual geographic base of operations, but anyone coming at this track, and indeed any of their music, without such prior knowledge would certainly place them south of the Mason-Dixon line.
Hillbilly Blues sounds like Tom Petty and Steve Earle driving along the I-40 singing Rainmakers’ songs, okay that is a bit simplistic but it has the same drive and accessibility, the same groove and grind, the same mix of utter commerciality and hidden gem status, and those horns just add something brilliantly quintessentially of that continent, something drawn from the blues-jazz hinterland of the American dream. But unlike the American dream, this is not a song of aspiration and hope, but a wonderfully self-deprecating take on the trials and tribulations of trying to pay the bills as a guitar-slinger. But then again country music has always been great at lamenting its own demise, but the charm here is that the song is never maudlin or melancholic, more about standing defiant in the face of the storm.
And the result is probably the most immediate and infectious song to come out of the man’s creative clutches so far and considering the standards he has already set, that is high praise indeed. As always stalwart Rough Riders Alex Quinn and Rory Racione do a sterling job, the former laying down some wailing guitar lines and slinky solos whilst the man at the back powers the song across the line with some tasteful and well tailored, driving beats. Maybe it takes an outsider to really cut through the musical complacency and well-guarded traditions of the country rock sound…listen to Hillbilly Blues and you realise that there is no maybe about it.