Johnny Dilks is probably related to Hank Williams somewhere down the line,
he has certainly inherited something from the man.
"Acres of Heartache" is the debut disc from this West Coast singer, but it
surely won't be his last. If you like the music of people like Wayne Hancock
and Dale Watson, you owe it to yourself to check out this disc, I promise you
won't be disappointed. The disc kicks off with the rockabilly rocker "Comin'
On Thru" and goes straight into the hillbilly balad "Lose That Woman Blues"
that really showcases Billy Wilson's steel guitar. "Close But So Far Away"
will have you cryin', "The Check's In The Mail" will have you cuttin' a rug
with your partner and "Stalin Kicked The Bucket" might even tempt you to
start line dancing!
I can't recommend this record strongly enough, buy it today, then check
the tours page to see when Johnny and the gang are hitting your town and
check them out in concert.
-- Rob Crowe, Rockabilly Central.
The soul of 1940s country music and the spirit of the three Hanks (Williams,
Thompson, Snow) shine brightly and warmly in the hands of this crack Bay Area
outfit. Dilks's sharp, strident voice and fierce yodels actually sound more
like Williams acolyte Wayne Hancock than Williams himself (not necessarily an
insult), and the band deftly mixes elements of honky-tonk, Western swing,
country boogie, and even early rockabilly. Paul Wooton's lead guitar and Billy
Wilson's steel provide plenty of instrumental muscle to support Dilks's very
nifty originals while Brian Godchaux's prominent fiddling and mandolin playing
add a Willslike dimension that similar acts such as Big Sandy's super Fly-Rite
Boys lack. Though the music is sure to be tagged with a retro label, Dilks's
quick-witted, light-hearted lyrics and his band's topnotch chops make this fine
debut sound quite a bit fresher and livelier than most hot modern country.
--Marc Greilsamer, Amazon.com
Johnny Dilks better get used to comparisons to Wayne Hancock (if he isn't already),
because reviews of his first disk are likely to be full of them. While his voice
and hillbilly sentiments may inevitably call forth such comparisons, however, it
would be unfair to regard Dilks as simply a Hancock clone.
Dilks works a somewhat narrower territory than Hancock's juke joint swing - for
the most part straight hillbilly with forays into western swing and honky tonk,
and occasional bluegrass flourishes courtesy of Visitacion Valley Boy Brian
Godchaux's mandolin. The songs, most written by Dilks, reveal influences readily
enough: "Lose That Woman Blues" and "One Foot In the Grave" have the mark of
Hank Williams, "Acres of Heartache" starts off with a strolling Marty Robbins-esque
vibe before it kicks uptempo for its chorus, "Yodel Til I Turn Blue" is a talking
blues á la Tex Williams, and "Grey Eagle" an old fiddle tune with lyrics added by
Dilks, sounds just like early Bob Wills (and Dilks' frequent instructions, vocal
asides, and whoops also reflect the influence of Wills).
Dilks' engaging vocals and accomplished yodeling aside, the performances seem
flat at times, and the band is sometimes a little rough around the edges, but
this seems more a matter of growing pains than permanent disability, and doesn't
prevent the disc from being a promising debut of old-style hillbilly music.
- Stuart Munro, Country Standard Time
Imagine if Chris Isaak’s music had some of the humor Isaak often displays in public (well, maybe something more clever than that) and took the yodeling schtick further and you get a good idea of what Johnny Dilks & His Visitacion Valley Boys are about -- sort of. Both Isaak and Dilks have ties to the Bay area, and the dreamy San Francisco sound infuses the work of both. But while Isaak flirts with romance and obsesses over love, Dilks kicks the dirt off his boots and worries how to pay the rent. Dilks was born and raised in San Mateo, and after a stint in a punk band, he found religion in the form of rockabilly and western swing. This says as much about Dilks as Isaak’s hormonally charged videos say about him and, for me at least, makes Dilks a much more interesting songwriter and performer.
The product of this circuitous musical route is Acres of Heartache, with 11 Dilks originals among its 15 tracks. Dilks' songs are uniformly excellent and stylistically varied. "Comin’ on Thru" is a someone-took-my-cheatin’-woman song with kick-ass attitude -- literally -- while "The Check’s in the Mail" preserves country music’s birthright of discussing the sad facts of everyday life, often with wry humor. "One Foot in the Grave" shows off some plaintive Cajun fiddling, and "Lose that Woman Blues" showcases Dilks’ yodeling, and man can he yodel. The collection is as uniform in quality as it is varied in its influences -- Hank Williams, Bob Wills, even a sprinkling of Buck Owens -- not an easy balancing act to pull off. The sound is a little thin and peaky, but clear and spacious overall.
The music on Acres of Heartache may not appeal to everyone, but it will interest those who admire well-crafted retro country with none of Nashville's wretched star-making bent. It’s great stuff, the kind of music you hear once and then hum all day. And if you get a hankerin’ to try and yodel, well, consider this your warning.
- Marc Mickelson, Sound Stage