"Just another Friday night/ crazy Johnny had to start a fight/ had a little hell running through his mind/ had a little back seat love affair/ lady luck wasn't waiting there/ it seems he ain't her kind/ got no choice but to run/ bottle of whiskey and a loaded gun." - Highway Of No Return - Monty Byrom-David Neuhauser.

When Bakersfield boys Monty Byrom and David Neuhauser built the slab for Big House they already had a royalty rich cash flow.

They had penned hits for acts diverse as The Stray Cats, Eddie Money and David Lee Roth when Larry Willoughby - a cousin of Rodney Crowell - discovered them.

Willoughby, who released a solo disc in the eighties, alerted former Hot Band
keyboard player Tony Brown - head of MCA Nashville - and the band's demos became its debut disc.

Singles including Cold Outside and You Ain't Lonely Yet - lifted from the two day recording session - landed the soulful sextet widespread exposure for its 1997 self titled debut disc comprised entirely of original tunes.

Brown said the demos were so strong they didn't need re-recording - especially Cold Outside that was pitched to TV and radio news services as a weather teaser.

"That's happened to me twice," Brown revealed, "for Lyle Lovett's first album that I did, we mixed the demos because they were so good."

They included accessible songs such as Amarillo, Sunday In Memphis, Blue Train, Soul Country and Crying Town.

Now the band, formed in 1994, has released its second album Travelling Kind with just one cover - a rocking revamp of the late Hank Williams Sr hit There'll Be No Teardrops Tonight.

Big House is a nineties reflection of the Bakersfield sound that was the alternative to Nashville for three decades.

"Being raised around Merle Haggard and Buck Owens it's the kind of music we've always played," says guitarist Neuhauser.

"I grew up being the singer in the band, loving Otis Redding, so that's where the soul comes from."

Although Big House released a radio friendly ballad Faith as the first single it's not a true reflection of an album.

The sextet roam the lost and lust highways from riveting road song Highway Of No Return, roadhouse romp of the title track, nocturnal searching of Never Again and a truly scorching finale, Don't Believe Everything You're Told.

It's a jagged journey from the mean streets of New York on Tender Dreams, an obvious single, to the punchy pathos of Ain't Slept In Your Bed, the vitriol of Second Hand Love and Trouble and pungent pessimism of This Far Down.

The subject material may sound familiar but it's the delivery that is the difference.

The unique vocals of Monty Byrom are underpinned by a chugging rhythm section that features brother Tanner on drums and the haunting harmonica from the quaintly named Sonny California.
And for trivia buffs - the extra percussion is from Peter Bunetta whose brother Al toured here with his charge John Prine.

2000 CD Review


"All the way from Oklahoma, broke down in Arizona/ took a year to earn enough to leave the burden that was on our backs/ took some lives and left some tracks/ now I can't find my grandma's grave/ you don't know what's hot when day to day is all you've got/ and the company's been renting you the shade/ tryin' to buck these haggard blues." - Buck These Haggard Blues - Monty Byrom-David Neauhauser.

When Big House recorded its third album Woodstock Nation for Dead Reckoning in 2000 there had been major line-up changes.

The two original members Monty Byrom and David Neauhauser produced it for the label owned by frequent Australian tourists Kevin Welch and Kieran Kane.

They kick off the disc with the optimism of Geronimo's Moon - where the Indian spirit hints of better days to come.

But that's soon derailed with two strident social comment tunes on the 11-track disc - especially Buck These Haggard Blues and the title track.

The former explored the economic and political hardships faced by new arrivals in the Golden state of California.

The late Buck Owens, a native Texan, and Haggard whose family fled the Oklahoma dust bowl, shared in the title.

Although their journey to Bakersfield may have been tough with Haggard's family toiling in labour camps it was nothing compared to the Mexicans who crossed the Rio Grande with "beads and bibles in their hands."

They also bemoan the shattered dreams of the Woodstock Nation withering like flowers on the vine and "that night they shot that preacher down in Memphis/ well they used his blood to draw a line in the sand."

But all is not lost - the character in River Town leaves his embryonic delta farm for the freedom a guitar picker earns in river towns from "St Louis to New Orleans."

They also explore the vast tapestry of love from the cheating in Girl Can't Help It, regret of Praying To Live, ruptured romance in Lonely Shade Of Blue and the escapism of I'm Moving On.

But there's boomerang assertiveness in the character in Don't Do Me Any Favours and the temptation triangle of He Don't Need To Know.

The disc's fiery finale is Walk Alone where the guitar-toting troubadour flees from a lover who suffers matriarchal pressure from way above and beyond.

Big House deserves career longevity but this is a transient genre where talent is definitely not the only recipe for success.

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