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Duane Eddy returns to the studio – and the twang's still there

Richard Hawley lures old-timer Duane Eddy out of near-retirement for a reprise of his trademark twanging guitar classics.

Duane Eddy is pictured in concert in Nashville this month.
Duane Eddy is pictured in concert in Nashville this month.

Duane Eddy
Road Trip
(Mad Monkey Records)
****

Before electric guitars got really loud, before being a guitar hero meant the kind of histrionics so brilliantly satirised by Nigel Tufnel's speedometer-equipped six-string, Duane Eddy was already cooking on hits such as Rebel Rouser. The twanging, low-register, heavily reverbed sound that he and his producer Lee Hazlewood hit upon in the late 1950s was a stylistic trope people adored. Listen to Johnny Cash's Ghost Riders in the Sky, the guitar solo on Glen Campbell's version of Wichita Lineman, or pretty much anything by The Shadows, and you are essentially communing with the spirit of Eddy.

Jimmy Page, Ry Cooder and Mark Knopfler have also acknowledged the Corning, New York-born twanger as an influence, but given that Eddy's last hit was a 1986 reworking of Peter Gunn with The Art of Noise, his legacy was in danger of being forgotten. Enter the south Yorkshire romantic and erstwhile Pulp guitarist Richard Hawley. A long-term Eddy fan, Hawley took it upon himself to lure the great man out of near- retirement.

The pair first met when Hawley presented Eddy with an Icon gong at the UK music magazine Mojo's 2010 awards bash. Hawley immediately offered to co-produce a record for his hero and, after talks, Eddy threw his cowboy hat and vintage Gretch in the ring. The result is Road Trip, the 73-year-old's first new studio album in almost a quarter of a century. Recorded in just 11 days at Sheffield's Yellow Arch studios, it sees Hawley and his able band co-writing with the veteran guitarist.

Collaboration-wise, it's a great fit. Hawley, too, knows that it don't mean a thang if it ain't got that twang. His facility with 1950s electric guitar styles, as played out on solo albums such as 2005's Coles Corner, has enabled him to document the inherent romance of Eddy's playing. Consequently, Road Trip sounds like a labour of love for all concerned.

The 11 instrumentals on offer take in a variety of styles. The title track and Curveball are Eddy twangers par excellence, while Twango is a punning, gypsy-swing nod to Eddy's hero, Django Reinhardt. Elsewhere, The Attack of the Duck Billed Platypus could usefully underscore a reading from Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep, its taut, noir-ish guitars conjuring the work of the sometime Tom Waits foil, Marc Ribot. The thread that binds these multifarious selections is a certain elegance and poise, with Eddy's playing masterful, but never showy.

Road Trip has its reflective moments, too. Kindness Ain't Made of Sand packs a sun-dappled wistfulness that will be familiar to fans of Hawley's solo work, while the measured, extraordinarily tender Franklin Town (named for the locale just outside Nashville, Tennessee, where Eddy lives) sketches its delicate melody with nylon-string guitars. It's tempting to read the latter track as some kind of valedictory, but hopefully Eddy has other plans. On this showing, another twilight-years outing from the King of Twang would be most welcome.

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