The Hillbilly Moon Explosion featuring Mark ‘Sparky’ Phillips – The Sparky Sessions

The Hillbilly Moon Explosion - The Sparky Sessions - album coverWhile it’s only in the last few years that I discovered Swiss rockabilly swing band The Hillbilly Moon Explosion for reasons I’m not quite sure of Welsh psychobillies Demented Are Go and their unmistakable frontman Sparky (aka Mark Phillips) have been on the edge of my knowledge for far longer.

After on and off collaborations between the frontman and the European band for several years they have now put out a record dedicated to these ‘duets’, The Sparky Sessions, that compiles all their work together in one place.

Given the musical outlook of the two acts one might think it could be rather one note, retro rock ‘n’ roll but, from the off it’s clear this isn’t the case as opener Broken Love is a strong slice of 80s style garage rock that right away makes this a far more interesting prospect that I had initially expected.

Emanuela Hutter and Sparky
Hutter and Sparky

As it goes on we got tracks that border on ska (Jackson), heavily goth tinged stuff (Black Ghost) and more than a few that combine many rock ‘n’ roll elements to become impressive duet ballads based around the unique combination made from Sparky’s voice (that sounds like he gargles with hot gravel) and that of Emanuela Hutter, who’s sweet tones (often accompanied by a knowing wink) counterpoint each other perfectly.

The album is roughly divided in two with the opening tracks being originals penned by either the band or Sparky while the second half is made up of a series of classic covers before it’s rounded off by a couple more of their own numbers.

Through all of this a few tracks really stand out.

As well as the raucous opener we get the classic rockabilly of Teddy Boy Flick Knife Rock ‘N’ Roll, originally by Welsh rocker Crazy Cavan ‘N’ The Rhythm Rockers led by the recently late ‘Crazy’ Cavan Grogan, which is a rare case of Sparky being joined on vocals by the other male members of the band and is a terrifically vital chunk of prime rockabilly revival stuff.

The Hillbilly Moon Explosion
The Hillbilly Moon Explosion

Their take on Jackson (made famous by June Carter and Johnny Cash) is also great fun and really shows off the way Sparky and Hutter’s voices work so well together as does, in a slightly different way, their take on The Ronettes’ Baby I Love You.

All the original tracks meanwhile also sound great but they certainly save the best for last with the song that not only introduced me to the band but was the first they made together, the terrific murder ballad, My Love Forever More.

With a strong visual and cinematic feel that makes it feel like the sort of thing Quentin Tarantino would write if he were a rocker not a film director (aided by a video that expresses a lot of this) its take on twisted love, murder and revenge is captured perfectly in the interplay between Hutter and Sparky.

This tops off a record that takes a rather unlikely collaboration and shows just how well it could work while being, very simply, a great fun listen that deserves to be heard by a far wider audience than I would suspect it currently is.

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