SOUTHBOUND: An Illustrated History of Southern Rock, UNTIL AFTER THEN Review

 Six decades in, it’s clear that guitarist and songwriter Tommy Talton is still making music for the sheer joy of it.  Until After Then, his fourth album for Hittin’ the Note Records, is a breezy romp through Talton’s wide-ranging musical interests. He manages to perform with both the energy of a music-obsessed kid and the restraint of a seasoned veteran – because, at heart, he is both. During the late 1960s a teenaged Talton honed his chops with central Florida’s regionally popular We the People. They released singles on the Challenge and RCA labels, but Tommy eventually wound up in Southern California where he reinvented himself as a folk-rock troubadour.  After returning to the Sunshine State, he joined forces with Scott Boyer to form a new band that would come to be known as Cowboy.  At the urging of Duane Allman, the group was signed to Capricorn Records and Talton relocated to Macon, Georgia where he played with his own group - while also working as a studio musician backing the Allman Brothers Band, Bonnie Bramlett, Clarence Carter, and others. Following a stint playing guitar for Gregg Allman, Tommy ultimately relocated to Europe, where he continued to perform with a group known as the Rebelizers. 

Though Talton now makes his home in Georgia, Until After Then was recorded in Alabama with an impressive array of guest musicians, including Amazing Rhythm Aces veteran Billy Earheart, Muscle Shoals Swamper David Hood, Capricorn drummer Bill Stewart, and Wet Willie guitarist Rick Hirsch.  Drummer David Keith pulled double duty keeping the beat and co-producing the album with Tommy.  The record immediately crackles to life as the guitar and organ stabs on the title track manage to be both subdued and exciting in that perfect soul-infused Southern-cool kind of way that defines classic songs like “I’ll Take You There.” The instruments may be sparse, but the arrangement leaps from the speakers and demands your attention, particularly when Talton displays his sensitive touch on the tasteful lead guitar work. “Real Sugar” is a playful musing on the ways we’re bombarded with unpronounceable chemical ingredients in commercially packaged food products. It works as an extended metaphor for a general sense of authenticity - a spirit reinforced by the horn lines that conjure what it might sound like if the classic era Stax musicians tackled the social issues of our day. With “Mr. Love,” Talton explores his psychedelic side with a dreamy Beatlesque melody. That same influence appears again throughout the album, most notably on “My, O, My,” a sparsely arranged gem that sounds like a Wings-era McCartney ballad enhanced by Talton’s beautifully restrained slide guitar work. It’s a high point among this collection of strong melodies. Tommy Talton isn’t afraid to explore the full spectrum of his musical influences. From the South-of-the-border-meets-laid-back-island vibe of “I Keep My Mind On You,” to the Dickey Betts-invoking guitar work of “You Got a Friend,” to the echoes of Cowboy in the acoustic tones of “She Was There,” Until After Then is an album that consistently hits the high marks of Talton’s musical loves but never sounds like imitation. He is the unique talent who wears his influences on his sleeve, but makes sure to leave his own fingerprints highly visible. Two of my personal favorite tracks appear late in the record. “The Man From Down Near Waco” is a tribute to Talton’s old friend Billy Joe Shaver. Featuring echoes of Waylon Jennings (thanks largely to John Kulinich’s twangy electric guitar leads), it’s also an exceptional lyric. “Love U A Little” sounds like a delightfully semi-deranged circus tune that could easily be an outtake from Bob Dylan and The Band’s Basement Tapes. 

   Unlike many veterans whose best years of making music are well behind them, Talton continues to be consistently engaging. Do yourself a favor and explore any part of his vast catalog. Until After Then is a great place to get started.   ~Scott Bomar