Originally an integral part of unsung outfits The Good Sons and Gary Hall & The Stormkeepers, Michael Weston King was busily crafting high quality English roots-rock years before the NME put The Rockingbirds on the cover, but he’s rarely been afforded his due this side of the Atlantic.
From the late ‘90s on, King embarked on a solo career which yielded further underrated notables such as ‘A New Kind Of Happiness’ and the emotive ‘I Didn’t Raise My Boy To Be A Soldier’, while his long-term life partner Lou Dalgleish pursued a parallel oeuvre which produced four long-players and collaborations with the likes of Elvis Costello and Brian Kennedy.
Individually, the pair are impressive solo performers, but since they’ve joined forces as My Darling Clementine in 2011 for ‘How Do You Plead?’ they’re dynamite. Receiving a well-earned 10 stars from W&H, not to mention widespread praise across the board, that album showcased a phenomenal set of classic Nashville-style duets and drew entirely reasonable comparisons with the likes of George’ n’ Tammy and Gram’ n’ Emmy Lou.
Proving they were onto an exceedingly good thing, the duo worked up a second inspirational instalment, 2013’s ‘The Reconciliation?’, for which they hooked up with Richard Hawley’s touring band, garnered further concerted praise and – as this writer can testify – played some fantastic gigs during 2014.
2015 yielded a third album, ‘The Other Half’ – recorded in conjunction with acclaimed crime writer Mark Billingham – but the new ‘Still Testifying’ emerges as the fully-fledged follow-up to ‘The Reconciliation?’ and – astonishingly - it’s perhaps the strongest of the duo’s trilogy of albums to date.
To realise ‘Still Testifying’, MDC returned to London’s Gold Top Studios and reconnected with the heavy-hitting sessioneers who helped to make ‘How Do You Plead?’ such a thrill. Consequently, Nick Lowe producer Neil Brockbank again occupied the producer’s chair, while The Rumour/ Ducks Deluxe’s Martin Belmont played most of the electric guitars and Dave Edmunds/ Van Morrison alumnus Geraint Watkins handled organ, accordion and more.
Regardless of their the calibre, however, the supporting cast can only work their magic if the material’s on the money to begin with and in that sense, these star sessioneers have a head start here, for most of ‘Still Testifying’s 11 tracks rank among the best King and Dalgleish have to date put their names to.
Though still a full-blooded, country-flavoured record, ‘Still Testifying’ finds the emphasis placed closer to Memphis than Nashville. The album commences at a fair clip with ‘The Embers & The Flame’ – quintessential love gone cold MDC fare pepped up by Hammond organ and Muscle Shoals-style horns – and follows up with similarly earthy propositions such as the honky-tonk-flavoured rocker ‘There’s Nothing You Can Tell Me (That I Don’t Already Know)’ and ‘Eugene’, which (despite the title referencing an Oregon town in the Pacific north-west) is a poignant, southern soul-flavoured ballad further embellished my lazy N’awlins-esque brass.
Elsewhere, King and Dalgleish continue to parade their versatility, tackling genre-hopping tracks as emotive and diverse as spirited murder ballad ‘Tear-Stained Smile’ (“Take the pillow from his face/Love won’t survive the murder on your part”) and the infidelity-riven ‘Jolene’s Story’, which is relayed with the help of strings, piano and a decisive dash of Phil Spector.
They do, admittedly, fashion one consummate, Nashville-style ballad courtesy of the tear-stained, pedal steel-enhanced ‘Since I Fell For You’, but when it’s matched by material as consummate as ‘Friday Night, Tulip Hotel’s accordion-embroidered tale of a doomed affair and the reflective, acoustic ‘Shallow’, it’s clear that with ‘Still Testifying’ My Darling Clementine have conceived yet another rich, diverse and compelling record which (and this is becoming a refrain) really ought to reward them with that long-overdue mainstream breakthrough.