David Serby - Honkytonk and Vine

David Serby's music isn't the stuff that you're bound to hear on mainstream country radio stations but any fan of true-blue Merle Haggard-like country may want to check the record out, as should mainstream country fans.

David Serby’s mug, pictured on the back of his new Honkytonk and Vine CD, is the perfect image of modern day honky tonk man. He has the hat, the beard, and the jean jacket. Heck he’s not too far off from looking like a young Merle Haggard! Vocally, however, he’s miles away from The Hag’s rough ‘n tumble vocal tone. Instead, Serby has a smooth, suave singing instrument, which he uses to subtly get his points across. And while the CD cover features a close up of his boots touching down on a Hollywood Walk of Fame star, this man has by no means come any where close to going Hollywood yet. Those boots are just too tall and thick to let Hollywood’s corrupting influence in.

Like all the best country performers, Serby often sounds like a soul singer with twang. Take, “Honky Tonk Affair”, for example. Skip Edwards adds Hammond B3, like it’s an Al Green ‘70s soul ballad, while the lead guitar part brings bluesman Robert Cray’s stinging lead lines to mind. But with “I Only Smoke When I’m Drinkin’”, Serby is beautifully politically incorrect. He engages in both of these vices (smoking and drinking, that is) quite a bit because he only drinks to forget, and he has a load on his mind that can only be drowned away. Instrumentally, the wonderful Jay Dee Maness lays on the pedal steel thick and pure, just like an unfiltered cigarette in a club without ventilation. With “The Grass is Always Bluer”, Serby trades his amplified bar music for Kentucky hills acoustic sounds, which provide a strikingly pleasing contrast.

“Country Club Couples” is another song that could only come out the mouth of a country singer. Its lyric talks of how honky tonks are often magnetic dens of temptation, where inebriated couples fool around and also fool themselves into believing they’re not cheating.

Serby, who wrote all these songs, also has a witty way with words. After detailing many past jobs he’s hated during the verses to “Permanent Position“, he finally finds a position he can live with, which is “leaning on one elbow with a beer glass in my hand.” Elsewhere, on “Chasin' You”, he spells out the vanity in chasing after one particular romantic prey by singing, “What are you good for beneath all that pretty hair/ ‘Cept making me feel like a jerk.” Lastly, the title alone to “The Heartache’s On the Other Sleeve” is a winner all by itself.

Much of Serby’s music is sad, in a funny sort of way, and hardly dance floor ready. But the opener, “Get It in Gear” revs things up a bit, and “Go On and Cry”, with its upfront electric guitar, closes the disc on a high powered sonic note.

Honkytonk and Vine will not hit you over the head with a broken beer bottle. This isn’t hell raising music to rival, say, Kid Rock or Eric Church. Serby, instead, hypnotizes you with that silky voice of his to quietly get under your skin. With that said, country radio isn’t all that good about making room for independent artists like Serby. But Serby has the looks of a heartthrob, the voice of a seducer, and the talent to please those looking deeper than the superficial, so let’s cross our fingers he finds a soft place to land on the charts.