If tuning into the Country Music Association’s annual awards show causes your blood pressure to rise and perches you atop the “this is NOT country music!” soap box for a few days, then the collaboration of Ryan Malott & Kelly Thomas might be up your alley. Then again, it might not.
The Kentuckians pair up for a self-titled debut, an EP fleshed out of the customary country backbone of whiskey, love and tears, and an insistent droppin’ of the “g” off of any word ending in “ing” (see tracks titled “Everybody’s Darlin” and “Keep Holdin On”). Malott is a part of the band 500 Miles to Memphis, a band given a bit of mid-south regional accolade in recent years. Thomas’ usual gig is the front woman to The Fabulous Pickups.
Thomas’ voice is fuller and more of a cultured southern voice compared to Malott’s flat twang a la Marty Stuart. Neither compromises their individualism, so the duo creates sound that’s consistently themed honky tonk and rockabilly with a dash of Hee-Haw, yet consistently in congruent in tone. It’s not nails-on-chalkboard sounding, but gritty and provoked, like someone is about to knock a whiskey glass to the floor in exasperation: “We don’t make time, we don’t make love, I don’t know you, you don’t know me, I’m ready to run.” The achy track, “Everybody’s Darlin”, could put a tear in your beer, but not like Johnny and June could. This is more of a 1980’s Kentucky prom-queen walks home in the rain alone kind of sadness.
Their songs are authentic and energetic from an act that could win loyal fans in the mid and deep south. Given a comfortable smoky dive, a warm summer night in the south, and cold beer, these guys could make the right crowd, say, of people who might find themselves “drinkin’ alone on Saturday night/puttin’ down the whiskey,” pretty happy. They are not country music in a bluegrass or Grand Old Opry sense, but they are the type of pure country infused with rock-in-roll that stands strong, forsaking their candidacy for mainstream “country” radio play… and they just don’t give a darn about it; they sound like they’re having a great time doing it.