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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Five And Dime Cowboys - In Our Time

Five And Dime Cowboys - In Our Time
2011, Five And Dime Cowboys

Husband and wife duo Terry and Toni McCarthy have been writing songs together for about ten years now.  Under the name Five And Dime Cowboys, the Dallas, Oregon-based duo comment on life as they know it and see it in song.  The tradition of such singer/songwriters as Merle Haggard, Ian Tyson, John Prine and Johnny Cash, Five And Dime Cowboys tackle subjects such as love, family, politics and faith from a simple, real-world perspective.  The name Five And Dime Cowboys is in homage to the classic dime stores that were integral to small town life in America at one time, as well as to the old-school country music that formed the backbone of the McCarthy's collective musical education.  Five And Dime Cowboys recently released their debut album, In Our Time.

In Our Time opens with "China Moon", a sweet number written, perhaps, from father to adopted child.  Terry McCarthy delivers the story-song of new beginnings in an almost talk-sing style that sounds like a cross between Jim Reeves and Phil Harris.  "Almost Free" is a song written to a dying friend, a sorrowful look back at what is to be lost that turns to look forward into the hereafter with a hope born of faith.  Toni McCarthy takes over on vocals in an effort defined by poor tone and moderate pitch issues.  Terry McCarthy's "My Grandfather's House" is an amazing piece of songwriting that memorializes memory.  McCarthy holds up the house as a testament to all that his grandfather was; even years later when the house is gone it still stands in his memory.  There's a subtext here about our roots and the power to guide you and call you home that's powerful in its sincerity and truth.  McCarthy renders these thoughts in a simple arrangement born of two guitars and a lot of heart.

Toni McCarthy's "Gospel Song" is a minor-key hymn that underscores the darkness of life and the yearning to return home to God.  The vocal line is still a struggle here.  "In Our Time" is a speculative narrative about the end times prophesied in the Bible, stating a belief they are coming soon.  The edgy folk/country/rock arrangement is well written, and Terry McCarthy takes over vocals for a while.  "Look At You" is a meandering love ballad written from the perspective of a long-standing and mature relationship.  This song's heart is in the right place, but the pacing is nearly interminable, and many listeners may opt for the 'next' button.  "I Don't Know What I Would Do Without You" is another ballad that works a bit better in both style and sound.  Toni McCarthy takes her final turn at the mic for "The Desert", suffering the same issues she has previously.  Terry McCarthy makes the effort worthwhile with some slinky electric guitar work. 

"Prayer 2012" is a monologue on the state of the world that turns into a prayer asking God how much longer we'll have to wait for his return.  It's a solid effort, but surprisingly uninspired, from the lyrics to the straight-forward, uninflected style of play.  Politics breathes some life into "Writing's On The Wall", a diatribe detailing how government exists to support itself and its brother corporations while the working class continues to pay and pay.  There's a great blues protest number feel to this song, which is catchy and fun in spite of the subject matter.  McCarthy sings the two-guitar arrangement just a bit, ending with an anecdote about how many in California are now supplementing their income by growing pt.  "Wind In The Poplar Trees is a pretty, old-school ballad singer tune delivered in Terry McCarthy's distinctive talk/sing style.  A song of reminiscence, McCarthy relies on deep imagery for effect to display regret for steps untaken and words unsaid.  In Our Time closes with "1954", a reflection on the changes to small town life over the years.  The transformation from towns full of prosperity and hope to barren places stripped of what they once were is stark, turning the universal optimism of youth into the bitter resignation of today.

Terry and Toni McCarthy tell the tale of American decline on In Our Time, remembering a time when the world was full of opportunity and light, and marking how quickly these things have failed.  Terry McCarthy shows flashes of greatness as a songwriter, and has an affable talk/sing style hewn from the golden age of country music.  As a guitarist he is very much above average, displaying a fine hand and sense of melody.  Toni McCarthy's guitar style is more the awkward, straight ahead style of a folk singer who learned to play guitar simply as a means to accompaniment.  Vocally, Toni McCarthy suffers from poor tone and distinctive deficits in pitch.  The three songs she heads up on the album are tough listens.  In Our Time is written in the form of universal truth-isms about a world that has seen its better days.  While dated in sound and perspective, Five And Dime Cowboys' In Our Time will appeal heavily to fans of 1950's and 1960's country music, as well as to fans of folk music of the same era.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more at  In Our Time is available digitally from and iTunes.  CD copies are available from CDBaby.

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