It’s my opinion that the current attempt in the blogosphere to ‘save’ country music is misguided and ultimately irrelevant. Genre boundaries are useful for the marketing people but artists should be free to go in any direction they wish – look at how the most popular Americana artists of the last few years are heavily indebted to indie and rock, as much as mainstream country is chained to pop and RnB. Blurring the lines of genre doesn’t cause any harm if the music is good, especially when there are still some artists out there who are concerned with keeping the traditional sounds authentic and alive. With All Its Thorns by Laura Benitez and the Heartache would have sounded like ‘classic’ country music twenty years ago but that feeling of nostalgia is exactly why this album is so appealing.
The name of the band might have you thinking this is going to be an album of sad songs but actually most of these tunes are floor fillers. Opening up is Something Better than a Broken Heart – a typically rowdy Bakersfield style country rocker with some nice accordion playing and guitar. Easier Things to Do is a sweet little song about the importance of pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. Sometimes you have to try hard to make things work – in music, love and life.
Our Remember Whens might be my favourite one on the album – a song about imagining a future together where you reminisce about the past. The pedal steel is lovely and the band play brilliantly on this (and the whole album). In Red is a slower, darker song that echoes the western sound – imaging the pain and hurt a doomed relationship can cause. Some atmospheric guitar playing really creates a dramatic feel, so when the narrator shoots her man dead it’s no surprise. This one got me thinking about how much I’d love to see a woman record a whole album of murder ballads, like Nick Cave did.
Whiskey Makes Me Love You More is another great song to down a few drinks to and spin yourself round on the dance floor. Almost the Right One and Secrets embrace a more Latin sound and, as a lover of traditional Mexican music, I really enjoyed these songs. Ghost Ship is more of a folk number in style, with haunting acoustic guitars and strings. Telling the story of a real life fire and the devastation caused, it evokes that feeling of fear and horror you experience after a tragedy.
The Fool I Am Again goes right back to the honky tonk, and you feel like this is Laura’s natural home. Her voice sounds the best on Why Does it Matter and I would have liked to hear more of this quieter understated singing on the album, as at times you feel she is pushing her voice a little out of its comfort zone on the more rocking numbers. I also love the final song Nora Went Down the Mountain with its bluegrass influence and proper hillbilly storytelling.
Country music like Laura Benitez and the Heartache might be a little out of time but yet you know this music will endure no matter how many Sam Hunts come on the scene. In twenty years time there will still be bands like this one out there in a dark corner of a bar somewhere capturing and breaking hearts in equal measure. So pull up a stool, order a whisky and throw something in the tip jar for this entertaining collection of timeless country songwriting.