At first listen to Eric Heatherly’s debut album, I immediately thought of early Dwight Yoakam. Then I thought maybe I was simply confusing Dwight’s “Brand New Cadillac” with Heatherly’s opener “Someone Else’s Cadillac.” The similarities soon faded, as the country faded and the rock and roll took over. Heatherly music springs from the Nashville honky tonks that disallow oversized hats and buckles. Heatherly whips out rockabilly-tinged bar anthems from a Bahama-green Stratocaster that demand singing along, bopping, and the occasional twirl around the living room with my wife.
While Swimming in Champagne might wind up filed under country, country it ain’t. It’s pure and simple barroom rock and roll. Even the rather tired and juvenile outsider theme (Rules: “I Just Break ‘Em”) gets good play without feeling too cocky and adolescent. Heatherly is an outsider, but really only in the sense that Nashville is crawling with the worms of cowboy pop and its attendant songwriters, producers, and haberdashers. He’s a Southern rockabilly boy with sideburns, two-tone shoes, and naked girls on his hepcat shirts. But his music rides a fine line between pop, country twang, and high-octane rock and roll. Sometimes Heatherly sounds like the bastard child of the Reverend Horton Heat and George Strait (conceived in Gene Vincent’s barroom). Sometimes he’s Dwight’s little brother. Country or Rockabilly, he loves his whammy bar, which spirals him out of both camps.
Swimming in Champagne‘s low moments arrive promptly every time Heatherly slows down. “One Night” and the title track “Swimming in Champagne” sent me screaming for the fast forward button. The sappy, sickly sweet, Top 40-ness of this tracks do Kenny G justice—and should have been left to him too. Maybe these tracks might broaden Heatherly’s airplay possibilities, but Heatherly really should stick to his fancy licks and driving beats and lay off the schmaltz. A nice addition to the album comes with Heatherly’s rendition of “Flowers on the Wall.” Without simply copying the Statler Brothers’ outstanding AM classic, he picks up the pace and adds his Stratocaster to the mix.
Throughout the whole of Swimming in Champagne, Heatherly shows all kinds of influences, from Stevie Ray Vaughan’s guitar amplifier settings to Dwight Yoakam’s early boom chukka honky tonk. Heatherly even seems to unconsciously resuscitate bits of Lynyrd Skynyrd. As long as you can program out the slow love songs, you get quite a honky-tonk package with Swimming in Champagne. Like any great bar band, nothing beats the live show. So if this record is evidence of the party at an Eric Heatherly show, bring an extra Jackson when you go.