The first track (“Hook Up”) on Tornado Magnet’s album Double Wide is about a fishing hole, Lone Star beers, and the good old boys who convene on a Sunday to hook up. The second, “Pistolero,” mentions a six-gun in a holster on “Pa’s” (pronounced paw’s) hip and serves as a cautionary tale for sons to not always emulate their fathers. Both songs set the tone for Double Wide, a collection of country ditties that seem over the top enough to be a parody of the genre. Intentional? Maybe, but the track “Rednecks,” which references mullets and inbreeding, is the only song on the album that seems tongue-in-cheek.
The musicians that make up Tornado Magnet, including lead vocalist/bassist Phil Bensimon, six-string guitarist Mike Ashley, and drummer Tom Owens, are top notch, despite the album’s overdone country-music themes. Bensimon has a pleasant, slightly wavering John Popper–esque voice, and the band is tight, obviously benefiting from their years together. The problem lies in their apple-cheeked, “aw shucks” approach to country music, their choice of subject matter, and cloying compositions. The sweetness — complete with mid-song, formulaic key changes — is campy, over-earnest.
This is an album for diehard neo-country fans. There’s just enough “alt” there to keep it rock-y (Tornado Magnet cites Wilco and Old 97’s as influences) and certainly more twang than the average listener can handle.
Album: Double Wide (2009)
Artist: Tornado Magnet
Label: Big Bender
Songs: 1) Hook Up 2) Pistolero 3) Austin City Lights 4) Highfield 5) The Fall 6) King of the Campus 7) Reminds Me of You 8) Rednecks 9) South of the Border 10) Whiskey Tango
Band: Phil Bensimon (lead vocals/ bass), Mike Ashley (six-string guitar/vocals), Tom Owens (drums/vocals), Doug Meyer (pedal steel), Wolfgang Greskemp (accordion/keys), Devin Shea (fiddle)