El Monte Slim’s If I Could Just Break Even is honky tonk for the every man. The hard-working, doing-the-best-to-get-by attitude the title forecasts, is the discourse the album is built on.
Booze-soaked tales, blue collar struggles, and yearnings for other times and other hearts is what lead guitar and vocalist Ian Trumbull is here to profess. With a vocal that will never be known as over powering but rather thick in believability and inflection, Trumbull’s ace is his penchant for well-crafted songs.
Cue up the second number “Just Paid My Rent” for a five star example of the cohesive shuffle the band of pedal steel/guitarist Joe Camacho, bass/vocalist Ruben Ramos and drummer Paul Brewin gets into. The boys receive a gracious helping hand from Heather Vorwerck,who’s sweet sweeping fiddle dances cheek to cheek with Camacho’s moaning pedal steel. The two glide through the smooth tempo Ramos and Brewin provide while Trumbull’s ode to the blue collar class kicks along. This one’s got late night dive bar jukebox written all over it.
And for the next nine songs that make up If I Could Just Break Even, Trumbull and company weave a smooth back and forth pattern of authentic alt country, Americana, and honky tonk goodness.
From the tear-in-the-beer tug of Trumbull’s voice on “Have You Seen Her Lately” to the up-tempo gritty singalong of “Adeline” right through to the sawdust kick up of “Whiskey Girl,” El Monte Slim keeps the pace lively and engaging.
It would be easy to miss (because the sound on the record is so good) but wrong not to mention the quality of production Christopher Hofee achieves on this album. His positioning of the vocal is spot on, giving Trumbull’s voice just enough of the spotlight but never too much to over shadow the more than capable band. The superb mix forges the multitude of sounds–one that gives this record that little extra oomph, taking it from average to exceptional.
On “Adeline” Trumbull sings “I have one more shot tonight/ To throw a half-ass punch/ In a full-fledged fight.” Well, there is nothing half-assed about this record, Ian. Keep jabbing away with your twangy, working class tales because the knockout is closer than it may appear.