Album Review: David Serby – Honkytonk and Vine

Brady Vercher | May 5th, 2009

It’s been a couple of years since David Serby’s last album, Another Sleepless Night, saw the light of day and during that time he’s continued honing his craft to perfection and even met his biological father for the first time. All this occurring on the backside of 30 is a little unconventional to be sure, but never mind that–his latest has him poised to break out of the local L.A. country scene and into discussion alongside the truly great country albums of the year.

Honkytonk and Vine is Serby’s third release to date and continues to build on his previous efforts, culminating in one exceedingly pleasing listen. The album’s musical influences run the gamut from honky-tonk (of course) to Tex-Mex, rockabilly, pop, soul, and even a bluegrass flavored tune with a melody that sounds suited for Western swing.

For something so stylistically diverse, Honkytonk and Vine is remarkably cohesive and pleasing rather than exhausting and confusing, and is anchored together by a voice which, although it cannot be called pristine, is much like Ralph Stanley II’s voice on his 2008 release This One is Two; Serby’s emotive ability is first-rate and his vocal phrasing is delightful.

Serby’s lyrics are simple, but evocative and freshly worded. Take, for instance, these lines from “Get It In Gear,” a song about a girl who keeps the narrator on his toes: “She burns through gin like motor fuel/I’m a cross-eyed cowboy falling off my stool“–humorous, expressive, and revealing. Despite their simplicity, Serby’s songs are capable of being pondered to reveal deeper truths without falling apart under scrutiny, and there’s not a bad one in the bunch. Quite the accomplishment, and especially so considering he penned each of the 13 songs himself.

Serby doesn’t attempt to push any boundaries in an indulgent attempt to be original, but nonetheless sounds creative while working within a particular framework, drawing from a number of influences and leaning on tradition without using it as a crutch.

However, Honkytonk and Vine still manages to be a musically stunning piece of work that breathes life and soul into a genre that’s been overrun with calculated guitar solos and melodic sound-alikes that deviate little from formulated templates. It’s music that demands to be noticed alongside the lyrics and is interesting where mainstream releases have recently failed–it’s not a thickly layered wall of Shinola, but rather–as Serby describes a character in “Chasin’ You”–it is “style beyond compare.”

This is an album that hasn’t been overly filtered and manages to make fewer missteps than ones that pass by infinitely more eyes and hands. So, while it seemingly takes more risks, the reward is far greater.

In short, with Honkytonk and Vine you can have your cake and eat it, too; style and substance. Imagine that.

4.5 Stars

Recommended: “Tumble Down,” “I Only Smoke When I’m Drinkin’,” “The Heartache’s On the Other Sleeve,” “Country Club Couples”

Listen to the entire album or purchase it on David Serby’s website.

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  1. [...] rather–as Serby describes a character in “Chasin’ You”–it is “style beyond compare.” Brady Vercher, the 9513 Country Music [...]
  1. Kelly
    May 5, 2009 at 10:52 am

    love this disc. this has become my default listen while i bbq on the patio…

  2. Rick
    May 5, 2009 at 11:30 am

    I’ve seen David Serby perform live many times but I still have no idea what his music really sounds like! The venues where I see him perform crank the volume to rock concert levels and with my earplugs in my ears the sound is muffled and vocals unintelligible. I just may have to purchase this CD, although Kelly’s endorsement leaves me with much trepidation…(lol)

  3. Kelly
    May 5, 2009 at 11:45 am

    Calm down Rick – I think we all know here that your endorsement of so many pretty-young things has turned far more people away than any endorsement I have given :-)…besides, if you havent noticed, we’ve agreed on a couple of topics recently…sort of.

  4. Jon
    May 5, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    Hmm, I listened to most of the album on his website and it didn’t do much for me at all. Both the singing and the songwriting struck me as pretty amateurish, especially for a third album. “Musically stunning?” Not to me, not even close.

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