Every time that someone sends me western swing, I want to write this opening paragraph again. Let’s just say I love this genre, not many other people my age do, and I feel like I have to do my part to help it out whenever I can. Pearls Mahone‘s Echoes from the Prairie is about as squarely planted in Western Swing as you can possibly be, which means that there’s sassy vocals, perky arrangements, and enough good vibes to go around two or three times. It’s also a lot of fun, regardless of if you’re into the genre or not.
So, just by being a western swing band, Mahone is calculated to get a high score from me. Beyond that, she’s an incredible artist: her voice is powerful and evocative and her choice of songs is brilliant. (Bonus: She’s got a song about my home state of Oklahoma.) Mahone’s voice is a confident alto that can be used a variety of ways: she can pull off vulnerable, sultry, sassy, and sentimental. “Saint & Sinner” also captures in a title the two sides of the coin that she espouses lyrically here: the brash “I Had Someone Else…” (“before I had you / and I’ll have someone after you’re gone”) and materialistic “Flash Your Diamonds” contrast with more tender work, like the nostalgic “Oklahoma Hills” and Billie Holliday’s “All of Me.”
The clutch of tunes at the end of the record is particularly entrancing: the last few start off with a thrilling “St. James Infirmary” and a earnest-in-sound “Old Time Religion” (which is elsewhere known as “I’ve Got That Old Time Religion,” a different song than the traditional “Old Time Religion,” but we’re getting into the weeds now). A short a capella version of “Go to Sleep Little Baby” (which you may know from O Brother Where Art Thou) comes next. Then Mahone seals the deal with a sparse, beautiful version of Tom Waits’ “Long Way Home,” one of my favorite tunes.
Mahone is thoroughly vintage in sound and immage (even evoking vintage typography and photography on her album cover), but she’s crafted an album of tunes that are perky, enthusiastic, and charming. If I had my way, everybody would listen to this and fall in love with Western swing. But until that great (hypothetical) day, we have a remarkable album to enjoy in Echoes from the Prairie.