The Lonesome Strangers were one of the great cowpunk bands to emerge from the same 1980s Los Angeles scene that produced acts like Dwight Yoakam, X and the Blasters. Jeff Rymes and Randy Weeks, the band's core members, were known for their close country harmonies, which evoked the work of legendary duos such as the Delmore Brothers and the Everly Brothers. The Lonesome Strangers recorded three critically acclaimed albums, and they even managed to crack the Top 40 with a remake of "Goodbye Lonesome, Hello Baby Doll," an old Johnny Horton number. But two years ago, shortly after the appearance of a fine album called "Land of Opportunity," Rymes and Weeks went their separate ways.
For his strong debut solo album, "Madeline" (HighTone), Weeks hasn't entirely abandoned his country roots, but he has added a healthy dose of soul and blues to the mix, with help from guitarist Tony Gilkyson (X, Lone Justice) and organist Skip Edwards (Dwight Yoakam). If Robbie Fulks and Tony Joe White ("Polk Salad Annie") were somehow merged into one person, Weeks might be the result. He has the boyish, nasally voice of the former and the soulful attitude of the latter. An odd combination, perhaps, but it works.
Together, the 12 songs on "Madeline" -- Weeks wrote nearly all of them -- paint a dark, sometimes disturbing image of love gone bad. It may the best breakup album since Chris Isaak's "Forever Blue."
"Motor City," the opening cut, with its driving, garage-band groove, finds the singer holed up in the bitter cold of Detroit, making plans to "take a little trip out West" to get over a soured romance. "Can't Let Go," which Lucinda Williams recorded on her "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road" album, makes it painfully clear just how hard that is to do.
In "Baby You Got to Choose," Weeks pleads for lost affection: "I'm comin' through your kitchen door/I'll bring you biscuits baby, and so much more/First you got to choose/I want to show my good side to you." When that fails, he takes a more direct approach. "I'm gonna tear your dress," Weeks sings in a creepy monotone on the title track. "I'm gonna leave you with your hair a mess ... I'm gonna muscle in/To all your hidin' places/When I can." It's "I Just Want to Make Love to You" with twang.
Like Gram Parsons, Weeks has a thin, wobbly voice that at first listening seems utterly incapable of conveying the pain and emotion of his songs. But its very imperfection turns out to be its strength -- think of Bob Dylan, say, or Howlin' Wolf -- and it's the reason why long after the "Madeline" disc is back in the jewel case, the songs just keep playing.