Michael Weston King with Loomer at the El Mocambo (464 Spadina), tonight (Thursday, February 24), $6. 416-777-1777. Rating: NNNNN
Unless you're from the UK and get misty whenever Gram Parsons comes up in conversation, the name Michael Weston King probably won't mean much to you. But during the brief alt-country scare of the early 90s, King was country-rock royalty in England as the creative linchpin of the Good Sons, Britain's answer to Blue Rodeo and Uncle Tupelo.
Unfortunately, the Good Sons were slightly too far ahead of the curve in England when being a country fan still meant getting decked out in Stetstons and chaps for a square dance weekender in Hertfordshire.
The whole No Depression thing never really caught on there until tastemaking UK music magazines like Mojo and Uncut began championing anything with a twang, but that was years after the Good Sons had split.
King has spent the ensuing years trying to get off the alt-country bandwagon just like many former flannel-flying artists, including the genre's standard bearers like Wilco and the Jayhawks.
His most recent studio album, the Jackie Leven-produced A Decent Man (Floating World), is a singer/songwriter affair with deftly arranged bittersweet songs of heartache that reveal the inspiration of Tim Hardin, David Ackles and even some Townes Van Zandt.
In fact, Van Zandt liked King's song Riding The Range enough to cover it, and he was never short of good tunes of his own to cut.
Although King's A Decent Man was critically lauded across Europe upon its release two years ago, it has yet to appear in North America. He understands that he's got some serious profile-raising work ahead of him, which starts with the current solo swing and then hopefully a new label deal.
"The Floating World label that released my last studio album has since merged with Evangeline, sadly, so much of the reason for my extended visit to North America is to sort out my label situation. I've got a lot of new songs written and I've been performing them at shows, so hopefully they'll be in shape by the time I start recording in April or May.
"My professional frustrations of the last year and a half - that sinking feeling of not being where you feel you should be at a certain stage in life - are figuring into the subject matter. But generally, the only thing I'm doing differently is trying to step away from the whole Americana thing by writing songs that don't sound as though they were strongly influenced by country music."
To some it might seem like King is turning his back on the audience who were his main support, but he's more than paid his alt-country dues and has the right to move forward in whatever stylistic direction is best suited to the songs he's writing.
"I still love country music, but I feel as though I've gone through that phase with the Good Sons and done my bit, and now I'm trying to write good, solid melodic pop songs with decent lyrics.
"When I put the Good Sons together in 92, people's perceptions of country music in Britain were shaped by what they saw in Alan Jackson and Billy Ray Cyrus videos. But we're now 13 years on from that, even though it's only been over the past two years that media interest in Americana-style music has exploded over here.
"I just feel like that music is history for me and I need to move on. I mean Wilco's A Ghost Is Born doesn't sound anything like their early stuff, which is how it should be.
"As an artist, you need to change and progress."