AMIGO THE DEVIL – Yours Until The War Is Over

Amigo The Devil’s second album, 2021’s ‘Born Against’ took folk, bluegrass and country influences and created something really interesting. Instead of taking an easy route through those styles, the best material mixed them with more interesting things, which led to tracks like ‘Drop For Every Hour’ and ‘Shadow’ sharing more of a Brecht/Weill influence, the mournful approach of Leonard Cohen cutting through the centre of ‘Different Anymore’, and even further away from the expected, ‘Murder At The Bingo Hall’ blending roots with a moody indie rock rhythm. Not all of the experiments worked, but it was always great to hear a man keen to push the boundaries of folk and Americana.

His third record ‘Yours Until The War Is Over’ often feels a little less scattershot, but the songwriting retains a genuine quality, and Amigo’s gift for creating really striking imagery remains untarnished.

An instant stand out, ‘I’m Going To Heaven’ kicks off with a massive, fuzzy guitar riff that sounds like a lift from an old Ennio Morricone soundtrack, and will catch the ear of fans and casual listeners alike. Moving into the body of the song, a tale of revenge where “blood and bones are easy to hurt” tips the hat to Johnny Cash, but a few vulgar lyrical barbs fall much closer to the Nick Cave school of storytelling. Name checking ‘Bat Out of Hell’ as a “song we won’t mention” shows a superb humorous streak to balance out the darkness, but this track is far from a novelty. In fact, as it progresses, the music somehow starts to feel darker as the lyric intensifies – despite it staying constant – and its perfect blend of dark folk, country, rock and cinematic qualities is classic Amigo.

Equally good, ‘Once Upon A Time In Texaco, Part 1’ clings onto the cinematic feel, but adds elements of bluegrass to the western themes, and the busy banjo fleshes out a great arrangement. The music might be a fairly predictable blend of outlaw country and folk/bluegrass, but the lyrics are anything but. Amigo recounts a tale where drunk bandits sing Cher songs, display a love of Simon & Garfunkel – the wordless hook from ‘The Boxer’ is replayed to superb effect – and eventually hold up a shoddy petrol station store. The mood is familiar, but the juxtaposition of music that sounds centuries old with a more modern setting creates something very striking.

Opting for something even more marginal, ‘Agnes’ opens with a very gentle guitar riff where acoustic strums meet an echoing sound, suggesting Amigo has been listening to more Ennio Morricone themes. Even when the tune finds its feet, it’s seemingly in no hurry to go anywhere. Aided by a croaking voice and reverbed backing, there are hints of further melodies that call back to the spaghetti westerns of the 60s, and even though this feels as if it should actually build upon a great idea, a couple of verses in, it merely stops dead, and transitions rather awkwardly into ‘Cannibal Within’ where the darker folk elements give way to more of a bluegrass feel. Dealing with themes of addiction, the lyric is well suited to the performer’s expressive voice, and constantly gives this number an ominous feel, but when placing his emotive tone against a rootsy banjo, Amigo lends the performance a heart that lovers of Americana and roots music will find very accessible. It’s one of those arrangements that doesn’t really change from its original remit – you won’t find any big twists or dramatic climaxes here – but the unwavering commitment to those opening moody melodies still draws in the listeners’ collective ear as the candid revelations unfold. Despite being released as a single ahead of the album, it isn’t ‘War’s greatest track, by any means. It’s tightly arranged and fans of the style will certainly find much to like, but on the basis of this collection, the now established singer-songwriter is actually better suited to the more downbeat material.

…And on that front,‘The Mechanic’ is easily one of the album’s highlights. On this finely crafted folk number, Amigo’s soft, finger picked guitar work lays a foundation for a mournful vocal, but despite the laid back music, a lyric exploring a break up never holds back. Against the mellow melodies, phrases like “like a house that’s on fire, you throw in the memories” and “we used to be happy” go straight for the heart. With a timeless feel, this proves that Amigo The Devil is up there with Leonard Cohen and Johnny Cash when it comes to contrasting a stark message with a strange beauty, whilst musically, his understated guitar work sounds absolutely gorgeous when set against a vocal that is absolutely unafraid to lay itself bare. Likewise, the quiet ‘Hanging By The Roots’ has a Cohen-esque sadness, despite being more of an Americana persuasion. Fans will have encountered Amigo tackling similar finger picked melodies, wordy vocals, and warm 60s twang on previous albums, but here, the very retro style shows no signs of wearing thin. In fact, the guitar playing – falling somewhere between Link Wray and something from a classic Chris Isaak LP – provides the core of a great number, and since the dour vocals sound as if they’ve been telling this tale forever, it has all the makings of an Amigo The Devil classic.

Showing off Amigo’s more quirky side, the heavily percussive stance of ‘It’s All Gone’ sounds like an Anti- Records period Tom Waits number augmented by banjo. The vocals are more palatable, but the melodic root and the lyrics – involving “death without a story to sell” and “everything going to hell” – are decidedly Waits-ian. To labour this point, Amigo actually growls the main hook in his best Waits impression. The influence may be as subtle as a tank, but it shows how well this performer can drop an obvious homage between his more distinctive material without it sounding in any way fake or lazy.

Elsewhere, ‘One Day At A Time’ shows an easy knack for backporch country-folk with some fine finger-picking and surprisingly subtle harmonies, and the finger picking ventures even deeper on the very subtle ‘Garden of Leaving’ which plays somewhere between Leonard Cohen and Duke Garwood, and the laid back music is a perfect fit for a story centring around grief. Somewhere towards the “noisier” end of the Amigo musical spectrum, ‘Stray Dog’ shares a stomping melody and heavily reverbed guitar, almost falling into the garage blues camp. Echoes of Jack White can be found beneath an old 50s melody, and a huge vocal is one of the album’s finest since it shows off Amigo’s more melodic side, as he delivers long, crooning notes. A musical interlude where a traditional solo is replaced by Amigo pretending to howl like a sad dog is a little tedious, and the drunken rambling gang vocal does its damnedest to derail what should’ve been another highlight, but the good certainly outweighs the bad.

With eleven songs and very little filler, this varied offering from Amigo The Devil should appeal to extant fans and new listeners alike. The imaginary world he builds throughout feels like a timeless place, and even when introspectively recounting tales of violence and woe, the best of the material has more warmth than ever before. It’ll take a few plays to really sink in, but once it does, it’ll become one of those albums that becomes much greater than being a collection of songs. Recommended.

February 2024