If you thought true country music was dead, step out of Nashville and head north to Cincinnati, Ohio. There you’ll find Mark Utley upholding tradition with his backing band Bulletville. Invoking the soul of country music from beer-soaked floorboards, Utley’s latest outing, Bulletville, released in April, takes up where 2013’s as-country-as-country-once-was Four Chords and a Lie left off.
The glass ain’t half empty and it ain’t half full
I’m drinkin’ from the bottle like I always do
That’s the way life makes some sense to me
I found religion at the local bar
I heard God singin’ in a steel guitar
Tellin’ me He loves a wretch like me
No saints are to be found on Bulletville. Extolling aging sinners (“Good Timin’ Girl”), empty-pocketed drunks (“Jesus Wept”) and sunrise philosophers (“Four in the Morning”) who overthink, love too much drink and take life one lonesome night at a time, Utley and Bulletville spin a continual waltz of bad choices, regrets and raw truth. The characters on Bulletville find solace at the bar (“Honey, I’m Home”) and the dance floor (“Remember to Forget”) while aching to escape home (the should-be-classic “Wish You Were Her”).
I’m a sweet little thing when I wanna be
My mama taught me what a good woman should be
She taught me how to stand up strong and live on my own
I want a good man who can handle me
One good night ain’t enough, you see
This time out, Utley utilizes his backing assets; wisely bringing singer Renee Frye to the forefront, she proves a worthy Tammy to Utley’s George, be it delivering the sass on “Firecracker,” trading verses on standout duet “Only in Our Minds” or admitting defeat on “The Only Thing,” Frye is a worthy counterpoint to Utley, exuding emotion and showing why the fairer sex always has the upper hand.
Without relying on metaphysical claptrap or twang-laden covers, Utley should be acknowledged among the vanguard of those upholding country music’s history. With whip-smart songs that are traditional to the hilt, Bulletville is country through and through, speaking to any color collar or neck while proving there’s no no good reason to ever leave the bar.
Watch the video for “Only in Our Minds” and stream/purchase Bulletville on vinyl, CD or digital below.