Pantomime Villains
Released May 29th 2020 – Voodoo Queen Records
Debut Album Review by Rockin’ the Bowl Festival

It’s ‘grim up north’, many a good soul will tell you that… Maybe this is why we seem to adore some good old sweat stained Whiskey soaked Southern music when it comes our way. Whether or not this is the reason… there is no denying that there is always a buzz around the Steel City of Sheffield when The Outlaw Orchestra is in town. With David Roux on Guitar and lead Vocals, Ryan Smith on drums, percussion, and vocals, Alex Barter on double bass and vocals, and Pete Briley on banjo, Lap Steel, and vocals, a party to remember is virtually guaranteed at every gig. The band’s last visit to our fine city, right on the very edge of the pandemic and just weeks before lockdown, quite rightly SOLD OUT in what became Sheffield’s last blow out before the world turned to crap!

The really big question though is: can the lads from Southampton, UK reproduce this quality of musicianship and energy in the studio? The answer is… you bet your very last goddamn bottle of Bourbon they can!

So, what are we getting here? ‘Diamond’ David Lee Roth warned us of trouble ahead if we ‘take our whiskey home’ and AC/DC built an entire career on metaphors involving cars, dogs and bones. With The Outlaw Orchestra there is no such shyness or concern. Nor is this an album full of double entendre… well, maybe one but we will come to that in a bit. This is good, honest, full throttle heavy bluegrass rock with a dash of Dixie, 50s Rock and Roll, Americana, Country, Latino, and blues mixed in.
Say that out loud in a sentence and it shouldn’t work… but it does work, boy! Does it work?!

The album opens with Take a Bow, an exquisitely solid chunk of bluegrass which the band is so well known for. The tightness of the band and the almost effortless way the members seem to come together sets the standard for the rest of the album right from the start.

Next up is Chicken Fried Snake. Southern Fried fast-food chains take note… this is the future. With its lovely chugging riffs, catchy hooks and infectious chorus, if you aren’t tapping you feet by the end of this… please check your pulse quickly!

With Hanging Tree, Mr ‘Banjo’ Pete’s talents really make themselves known. Short, snappy, cheeky and a great barn dance feel makes it hard to know whether to have a shot of Irish whiskey or a slug of Tennessee Mash… Hell, why choose! (Drink responsibly, guys)

Shoulda’ listened to your mama and your friends’ about guys like Dave, he may well be a Whiskey Drinking Liar but that doesn’t mean we should stop listening. A good Southern style foot stomping song full of advice from the ‘respectable’ members of polite society not to be associating with the likes of The Outlaw Orchestra… Will we take the advice? Hell no!

Next up we have Arabia, already released as the first single from the album. An entire ‘tongue in cheek’ genre created in one single song… Country and Eastern, it began right here, folks, with another great song, but one that’s difficult to pin down. Just when you’re convinced you are getting the hang of these guys and start to settle into the whole feel of the album, along comes a lovely Country song lamenting a missing camel! I’ll leave you to work out what this song is about. By this time anyone who thinks The Outlaw Orchestra are trying to be the British Cadillac 3 (by no means a bad thing) will soon realise that it’s not that easy to fit them into the box you’ve prepared for them… They keep jumping out!

Talking of jumping… The next song does exactly what it says on the tin… Jumpin Jive is a classically unashamed rock and roll track, upbeat and relentless with a superb guitar solo that would have happened years ago if Angus Young had gone back to the future instead of Marty McFly… maybe that’s just how I see it… you decide! Either way, you can just imagine Alex slapping and spinning that Double Bass around the studio.

It Happened Again. It certainly did and we are grateful for it! A solid slice of country rock that tells us what sacrifices are needed to keep that 6 string on Dave’s back. I’m sure no cats were harmed in the making of this song.

Latino beats, Flamenco guitars anyone? How about some hot and sweaty Cuban nights, or a visit to a Voodoo Queen in the Cajun quarters of New Orleans maybe? This one starts off nice and slow but that doesn’t last. When you go to an Outlaw Orchestra gig… clear some space down the front when this is played… dancing is guaranteed.

Let’s address that double meaning issue with Too Much Willie Nelson. This track just oozes southern rock and slips straight into a nice laid back groove. The Willie Nelson metaphor is soon put to bed with the very first few lines of the song. All that remains is to ‘Roll another one… just like the other one’ and find out if we really can play Johnny Cash. If that don’t make no sense boys and girls, you just gonna have to buy the album.

All good things come to an end and here we are! Send Some Whiskey Home, as close to a ballad as its going to get, this slow burning classic rock number feels like the sun setting on this fine debut album. The duet adds yet another fine dimension to this diverse and eclectically brilliant offering from a band that has proven beyond doubt that they have the quality and skill to stand shoulder to shoulder with the best of them.

Listening to Pantomime Villains all the way through makes you want to go out and buy their other albums… until you remember this is their first.
Ladies and gentlemen, on 29th of May I fully recommend that one of the very first things on your to do list is to buy this album.

Cheers, stay safe and keep on rockin’.
Steve, Rockin’ the Bowl