Delayed Plays: Country Darkness by My Darling Clementine (with Steve Nieve)

In late 2020, My Darling Clementine—aka husband-and-wife duo Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish—released their Country Darkness album, a collection of country-tinged Elvis Costello covers (plus one original) that they recorded with Attractions/Imposters keyboardist Steve Nieve; the songs had previously been released on a series of EPs in 2019 and ’20. But, like too many other albums and EPs in the pandemic age, it faded away despite a spate of positive reviews from the usual suspects of American Songwriter, Mojo and Uncut.

King, it should be noted, once led the Good Sons, who were often called the British Uncle Tupelo. Dalgleish, meanwhile, performed with such luminaries as Bryan Ferry and the Brodsky Quartet, and also released four well-received albums herself during the ‘90s. In 2010, she also starred in They Call Her Natasha, a play she and King penned that charted the second Elvis’s career through the eyes—and voice—of a fan obsessed with him; King also appeared in the musical, as the below trailer shows.

Country Darkness hones in on a specific element of Costello’s oeuvre that first revealed itself to the general public when he covered a slew of country songs during a Hollywood concert in early 1979, including his own “Stranger in the House” (which would be included on a George Jones album later that year—as a duet between the two, no less.) A few years later came Almost Blue and in the years since (and even prior) one can hear strains of country throughout many of his songs and albums.  

Which is to say, if they haven’t already, fans of Costello and both alternative and traditional country should give Country Darkness a listen. King and Dalgleish join forces, and trade lines and verses, like (take your pick) Gram and Emmy, George and Tammy, and Johnny and June, in that they routinely flash their heart-shaped bruises for the world to see.

The songs are plucked from throughout Costello’s career, including one of the highlights from his collaboration with Paul McCartney, “That Day Is Done,” and “The Crooked Line,” which he co-wrote with T-Bone Burnett (and that featured Emmylou Harris on harmonies). “I Felt the Chill Before the Winter Came,” a co-write with Loretta Lynn, is another stunner, as is “Indoor Fireworks.” Though most were not written as duets, King and Dalgleish take turns on verses and lines in such a way that you’d think they were; and Steve Nieve’s prowess is on powerful display throughout, most notably on the Trust-era tune “Different Finger.”

To an extent, the album reminds me of the excellent 2017 covers album from sisters Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer, Not Dark Yet, though those two cast their net wider than one songwriter. The songs are refashioned to better fit the talents of My Darling Clementine, yet the alterations never diminish their power. It’s an album well worth exploring—and my hunch is that it plays even more powerfully in concert. Which leads to this: Now that the pandemic is easing up and live music is becoming a thing again, My Darling Clementine is touring in support of Country Darkness. Those are sure to be magical nights. See them if you can.

The track list:

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