CD Reviews

ACTION ANDY & THE HI-TONES: High and Lonesome/The Fall and Rise of HiLo

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In 2014 can popular music be retro-sounding and innovatively forward-thinking at the same time? And what exactly does it mean to be at the vanguard of any artistic discipline? These are but two of the thoughts that came tumbling down from the heavens after partaking of the latest platter by the inimitable Action Andy.

“Action Andy” is Andy Rasmussen, one of the heppest cats around town, who made a name for himself at the beginning of the ‘90s as bassist of the seminal, rockabilly quartet the Sleepwalkers. After recording his solo debut in 2006 (the very fine Haunted Honky Tonk LP), he has released a long-awaited follow up and I’m here to tell you that the results are spectacular.

The Fall and Rise of HiLo is a concept album where Rasmussen primarily adopts the voice of an omnipotent tent-show revival preacher who serves as narrator throughout the proceedings — setting up the drama and keeping the arc of the story moving. Ostensibly a morality tale, our hero HiLo is a man who seeks salvation in the form of a “one true love” and finds himself in the classic position of looking in all the wrong places.

This is not your ordinary song-cycle and you’ve never heard an album as San Diego-centric as this — name checking all the hip local spots to make the scene and be seen: Club 13, Jolar, the Tower Bar, the Ken Club, and, of course, the Casbah. There are some brilliant linking devices between the songs (sort of like a film soundtrack without the accompanying visuals) and the music comes together beautifully in a unique hybrid that goes way beyond the constricting tag of “Americana.” Rasmussen’s melting pop employs TexMex rockabilly, surf music, and tiki lounge — with slivers of honky-tonk twang pried from the dance floor planks of Bakersfield — all hopped up on something that sounds like Sam Phillips is in control at his legendary Sun Studios in downtown Memphis circa 1958. There is an ethereal spirit that floats throughout this album, all conjured up by Rasmussen through the character of HiLo.

Rasmussen’s backing band the Hi-Tones are a San Diego super group that consist of drummer Skid Roper, bassist Tom Ward, and lead guitarist Xavier Anaya. David Fleminger and Heather Vorwerck of the Comeuppance contribute and Doug Meyer‘s magnificent pedal steel playing permeates the entire affair. The sound is ancient, classic, and evocative of a by-gone era, and yet it’s also timeless in its futuristic themes of spiritual redemption with an emphasis on unconditional love for All — which begins and ends with Self.

In the final tally Rasmussen’s narrator offers some sage advice: “You gotta let Love in, you gotta let Love be your guide — don’t run and hide. And if you want change, you got to be the change ‘cause if you don’t have Love in your heart you can’t have Love for anybody… so just dig. And be dug in return.”

Can I hear an Amen to that brothers and sisters?

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