Honky Tonk & Vine
It has been a big couple of years for David Serby, both professionally and personally. The hard-working Southern California country artist opened the hugely popular Stagecoach Music Festival, received a front page profile in the Los Angeles Times, shared stages with Nashville stars like Tracy Lawrence and Americana heroes like Jim Lauderdale, and met his biological father for the first time Now Serby is poised for even bigger things with the release of his third CD, Honky Tonk and Vine. The disc has already attracted pre-release acclaim with Americana music maven Chris Morris extolling it in LA CityBeat as one of best albums of '09 and calling Serby "a formidable tunesmith who knows the honky-tonk template by heart." Serby's new record retains all of the classic country stylings that he cultivated so successfully on his first two discs, I Just Don't Go Home (2006) and Another Sleepless Night (2007). Honky Tonk and Vine comes well-stocked with tears-in-my-beer weepers like "I Only Smoke When I'm Drinkin'" as well as roadhouse rave-ups like "Don't Even Try." The record races off to a hot start with "Get It in Gear," about a girl who asked Serby to retrieve naked photos of her from a drug dealer. Another true life-inspired tune, "The Heartache's on the Other Sleeve," finds a man enjoying the discovery that his ex-wife, who cheated on him, is being cheated on too. While exploring the vagaries of the heart, Serby steps outside the traditional honky-tonk sounds throughout this effort. "For Cryin' Out Loud" sports a lively Tex-Mex feel, while "Honky Tonk Affair" cruises on a Southern soul vibe. He draws inspiration to explore new musical territory from his talented band, the Sidewinders, who he feels blessed to play with. The rhythm section, bassist Taras Prodaniuk (Dwight Yoakam) and drummer Gary Ferguson (John Hiatt), are in-demand L.A. players as are many of the disc's guest sidemen - Skip Edwards, Jay Dee Maness, Rick Shea and Gabe Witcher. Serby calls longtime guitarist/producer Ed Tree (Spencer Davis Group) his Don Rich and Pete Anderson. "I feel so lucky to hook up with him," Serby states. "Without me saying anything, Ed will massage the track to exactly what I want it to be. I'm really on the same page with him musically. He's a great collaborator in that respect." A comment from Tree, for example, spurred Serby to re-work "The Grass Is Always Bluer" from a Wynn Stewart-type tune into a more bluegrass-flavored number. The disc also bears the influence, somewhat indirectly, of his biological father. Serby, who had long known that he was adopted, was able to track down his biological parents a couple years ago. It turns out that his birth father, Pete Canton, is a country music bassist who was part in the L.A. scene during the '60s and '70s. In an unusual coincidence, Canton played with pedal steel wiz Jay Dee Maness, who also appears on Honky Tonk. Discovering this biological music connection helped to explain a lot to Serby. Throughout his life in Southern California and Illinois, he was enamored with music (playing violin in elementary school, singing in a high school punk band and teaching himself guitar in college), although his adoptive parents were not. After marrying his high school sweetheart, Serby put down the guitar for most of his 20s and worked as a Hollywood script reader and an insurance claims adjuster. He picked it up again when he turned 30 after his first marriage broke up and his adoptive father died. Playing backyard parties, open mike night and clubs, Serby worked his way up the musical food chain and got an invaluable education. "Most of the heavy lifting when you start out in music is done in your 20s," he shares. "I was doing heavy lifting when I was really too old to do heavy lifting. But I keep doing it because I love it so much. I feel lucky to have gotten the opportunity to do music." Learning about his birth father's music career got Serby thinking about '60s and '70s country music. He penned "Country Club Couples" as a way to visit the raucous old days of country music bars. Serby also started writing in a much leaner style. "I have been focusing more on writers like Willie Nelson and Harlan Howard, who are able to say so much with so little." He says that his goal with this new set of songs was "stripping away as many of the words as I could and saying as much as I could with as little as I needed to." A real student of country music, Serby proudly carries on the California country tradition that traces back to the singing cowboys Gene Autry and Roy Rodgers, through Spade Cooley and Hank Penny, then Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, and more recently Dave Alvin and Dwight Yoakam. "If I could make a bunch of records and swing back and forth between Alvin and Yoakam that would be perfect," Serby proclaims. Although with the triumphant Honky Tonk and Vine, he stands to make a name for himself across the Americana world.