May 2, 2024

Status Quo may once have had a reputation as a full-on rock band, but front man Francis Rossi has never made any secret of his love for other genres. He loves pop and country, and indeed, since he became Quo’s de facto leader in the mid-1980s, pop has arguably been their mainstay – think Marguerita Time, Dear John and the massively divisive Jive Bunny pastiche Anniversary Waltz. Rossi has always wanted to record a full-on country album too; in fact he and fellow aficionado Bob Young set plans in motion as far back as 1973. The other band members talked them out of it at the time, and a similar project with Bernie Frost also died the death in the mid ‘80s.

It was when Quo decided to do an unplugged album that the project came back on to the drawing board. They released Aquostic – Stripped Bare in 2014, promoted by a couple of nights at the Roundhouse in Camden, London. The acoustic sound was enhanced by Geraint Watkins on piano-accordion, and a few backing singers, one of whom, Hannah Rickard, was a big country fan and played the fiddle to boot. She and Rossi hit it off and started writing some songs together. The result was an album named We Talk Too Much, recorded under the names Francis Rossi and Hannah Rickard, and released on CD in 2019.

Photo by James Eckersley

The two of them drafted in Hannah’s bandmate and unspecified relative Howard Rickard, and long-time Rossi collaborators Bob Young (a massive country fan) and Bernie Frost to write a swathe of new material for the album, while also recycling a 1970s Rossi/Frost demo named Rearrange. Rossi and the impressively-cheekboned Rickard each take lead vocals on selected songs, but mostly they sing in tandem, sometimes in harmony but more often simply singing the main melody a couple of octaves apart. Geraint Watkins’ familiar accordion is also to be heard along with a honky-tonk piano and sundry other instruments, all given a folky, country vibe.

Well, that was great for both of them, and as a side project from Quo, a bit of a change for Rossi, even though the basic, largely three-chord structure of these songs doesn’t stray too far from the well-worn Quo path. Rossi’s subsequent autobiography, the similarly-named I Talk Too Much, was accompanied by a chatty solo tour, and now, five years later, the album has been brought back to the fore and released on vinyl for the first time. What’s more, in a reversal of the old tradition, in which relatively short-format vinyl albums were given bonus tracks when released on CD, the opposite has happened. The CD album consisted of 12 sub-four-minute songs and only just broke 40 minutes, which means there is room for a bonus track on the new LP format, a gap filled by the previously unreleased song Broken Memories.

The LP is presented in a handsome gatefold sleeve, and the record is a reassuringly heavy 180g vinyl. Slap it on to the turntable, drop the stylus, and the first song out of the blocks is I’ll Take You Home, an up-tempo bluegrass number with both vocalists singing together, and fiddle in the background. Yes, it’s country, but it’s basically a latter-day Quo song in disguise – the guitars are still there, and so is the simple, jolly good-time tune, but dressed up in hoedown duds. It’s actually really good, and I have no doubt that any number of songs from Quo’s back catalogue could benefit from a bit of the same treatment.

The second song, I’ve Tried Letting It Go, has more of a 1960s pop vibe, sung in harmony duet with both voices equally to the fore. Rossi’s guitar solo is straight from Quo, and the song has the feel of one of their early non-album singles or B-sides, maybe Wild Side Of Life, or Joanna. Wild Side, of course, was a genuine country song given the Quo treatment, so it’s payback time really. I Just Said Goodbye is up-tempo, light rock with violin in the intro and bridges, which perhaps takes the place of Andy Bown’s poppy keyboard sections from the later Quo hits. It’s a bit Dave Edmunds to be sure, and very reminiscent of Quo’s Fine Fine Fine. There is a spot of nice country guitar down in the background; the solo consists of violin and guitar playing the same part from different spots in the stereo pan.

And so it continues; almost every song features both Rickard’s pleasant soprano and Rossi’s mature less-nasal-than-it-used-to-be vocal twang. Every song is jolly, upbeat and tuneful, with the possible exception of the end-of-evening waltz-time ballad, Good Times Bad Times. Rickard sings the lead by herself on this one, with massed harmonies in the choruses, and Geraint’s accordion throughout. The only other surprise is the unashamedly gospel Waiting For Jesus, which recalls Banks Of the Ohio or a traditional rendering of This Ole House. There is even a flavour of ELO about a couple of the tunes, notably the title song, on which Rossi sings the lead, and Maybe Tomorrow, which is pure, electric rock ‘n’ roll. It comes across like Rock ‘n’ Roll Is King, and brings the main album to a rousing close.

So what of the bonus track? As far as I can tell, Broken Memories is up there with the rest of the album, its chugging rhythm and tuneful presentation a match for the rest of the set. Given the relative brevity of the CD release, one wonders why it wasn’t included in the first place. Maybe it was considered that 12 songs was enough for a one-off project release, or maybe they had in mind all along, using one of the songs as a bonus track at some point.

However it may be, this last addition doesn’t let the team down in any way. I take my hat off to Mr. Rossi for fulfilling his long-held dream at last, and getting a country album into circulation. I repeat that, despite the difference in presentation, any one of these songs could just as easily have ended up on a Quo album, especially in latter years. But then, Rickard’s light and airy touch is a massive difference in presentation.

We Talk Too Much by Francis Rossi and Hanna Rickard is available on vinyl for the first time on 3 April 2024 through earMUSIC