Review: Tom Proctor and the A-Listers “Working Man” by Edmund Barker

Tom Proctor, lead singer of country band Tom Proctor and the A-Listers, is an actor with something of an impressive resume. He’s the sort of character actor who turns up in all sorts of places if you keep an eye out for him — as one of the Ravager space pirates in the first Guardians of the Galaxy, a biker in True Detective, and a character in some episodes of the neo-western series Justified. A look at his list of roles shows a common theme: parts that play up his image as an imposing tough guy with a grizzled Southern exterior. And he’s certainly got the look for it, with his thick beard, weary hard-living demeanor, and occasional mullet. Country is a logical choice of genre for Proctor’s tough-as-nails Cajun persona, and his group’s new album “Working Man”, plays to these strengths. The record’s songs evoke the unmistakable mood of the Big Easy, like the ballad “Lost in New Orleans,” but also take inspiration from the seedy Sunset Strip, as is the case with “In Hollywood.” “Working Man” is an album that’s often quite funny, dealing in a worn-down sense of humor and sarcasm that made me think of Tom Petty. But what surprised me about the record are its moments of real tenderness, perhaps because I had so associated Proctor with the stoic baddie roles he frequently plays. Multiple tunes on “Working Man” have a quality of deep melancholy to them, delivered with a downbeat charm. Other tracks, by comparison, are full of joy, celebrating the hard-rock Harley Davidson lifestyle Proctor lives on and offscreen.

The influence of the late, great Tom Petty feels present on the opening song, “Working Man,” which has an excellent blues rock hook at its core reminiscent of “Last Dance With Mary Jane.” Proctor’s tribute to the overstressed working Joes (and Janes) of the world has a humorous streak amidst its sadness, with lines in the chorus like “raise a beer — make sure it’s a local brand!” The Tom Petty comparison becomes apt once again (last time I bring it up, I swear) when Proctor takes his bittersweet country storytelling to Southern California with “In Hollywood.” Some of the disc’s most wonderfully cynical lyrics touch on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, saying “do you know the price they pay for the star you’re walking? The name’s engraved in gold, but the memory’s long gone.” The somberness in the first couple of tracks is switched out by “I Don’t Know,” a giddy dance number with a fast beat and a keyboard organ. It’s Tom Proctor at his most exuberant, singing his heart out about love on the dance floor. The irresistible chorus — “I don’t know where you came from babe, I don’t know where ya been!” — has the feel of perfect music for honky-tonk saloons. Being no stranger to westerns thanks to his acting, Proctor goes full Billy the Kid on “Son of an Outlaw,” in the storied tradition of country songs about the romantic allure of life on the run. Mastered is a record with no shortage of personality, and an easy recommendation to old-school country fans.

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