Talk about second chances. For all the wit and charm of their two neo-Everly Brothers albums in the late ’80s, the folky Proclaimers — not too surprisingly — failed to incite much Stateside enthusiasm. The American market for Scottish twins with thick accents strumming acoustic guitars and tapping on bongos had yet to be developed; after five years had passed, history seemed ready to pass Craig and Charlie Reid by for good. Then “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles),” the brothers’ catchy second-album avowal of abject devotion, was tucked into the Johnny Depp film Benny & Joon (the soundtrack of which contains no other pop songs) and became a hit. Faster than you could say haggis and neeps, the bespectacled brothers (from Auchtermuchty) were shooting their way to sudden belated stardom.
The Proclaimers not only acknowledge their thick accents, they sing about ’em (in “Throw the ‘R’ Away”). Oldtimers and nostalgists will be forgiven for thinking the duo sounds like the late Lonnie Donegan, the Glaswegian superstar whose skiffle records served to popularize American folk music in pre-Beatles Britain. By telling it straight and artlessly, This Is the Story stands out, embracing and updating ancient traditions without phony posing.
The upscale production of Sunshine on Leith adds a full complement of sidemen (including LP producer Pete Wingfield and a couple of Fairport Convention veterans) and a certain gloss, but only succeeds in making the duo’s second record even more delightful than the first. On their way to becoming Scotland’s very own Everly Brothers, the Reids deliver another batch of lyrically clever and extraordinarily tuneful songs. Coping handsomely with the fuller sound, their harmonizing voices and the tastefully electrified arrangements combine into a rich brand of folk- rock loaded with pop hooks.
King of the Road is a four-cut EP which contains the duo’s amusingly pointless version of the Roger Miller song.
Wisely, the Reids accepted the ironies of their career without making it an issue on their third album, which simply picks up where Sunshine on Leith left off. Hit the Highway gives their brogues and bristling enthusiasm — for love of women, life and God — a conducive, full-blooded instrumental setting, and they sing up a storm. Wingfield’s unfussy Nick Lowe- styled production hits a series of fine folk-soul- rockabilly-country-rock grooves, and the pair’s plainly sung real-life originals of romance (“Let’s Get Married,” “Shout Shout”), toil (“Follow the Money”) and faith (“The More I Believe,” “The Light”) do them proud.