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Sam Outlaw Sam Outlaw
Album: Tenderheart
Label: Thirty Tigers
Tracks: 13
Website: http://www.samoutlaw.com

His debut, Angeleno, having won International Album of the Year at the recent Americana UK awards, Outlaw (born Sam Morgan) has wasted no time in consolidating on its success. It has its eye on both the Nashville mainstream (albeit the big hat and rhinestone tendencies are dialled down) and the more middle of the road alt So-Cal country audience who like to drown their sorrows in some imaginary honky tonk.

It's the latter to which slow waltzing ballad opener Everyone's Looking For Home is targeted, its spare instrumentation, brass and strings briefly sticking their heads round the door for a midsong flourish. Attention then shifts for the uptempo brushed drums shuffle of the refuge in booze themed 'Bottomless Mimosas' with its twangy guitar and peddle steel, even if the line about a "peaceful easy feeling" is a rather shameless invocation of The Eagles.

And that's pretty much how things play out for the rest of the album, balancing the reflective balladry of things like, 'She's Playing Hard To Get (Rid Of)' and 'Look At You Now', an echoey duet with Molly Jenson, with sprightlier and bigger arrangement moments such as the catchy Creedence rolling rhythms of 'Trouble', 'Two Broken Hearts', 'Say It To Me' and the old school perky front porch bluegrass strum of 'All My Life' with its brief mid-song shift in tempo, slowing down from a hoedown stomp to a riverside revival meeting pace.

Solid rather than ambitious, it's undeniably enjoyable and pleasant listening, the acoustic bounce of 'Dry In The Sun', the poignant reminiscences of 'Bougainvillea, I Think' and, very reminiscent of Petty's 'Free Falling', the title track standing out from the crowd. Likely to sell in bigger truckloads than its predecessor, it firmly establishes Outlaw as a new star in the contemporary country constellation, but, now playing with the big boys, it may be a while before he gets a bookend to that award.

Mike Davies