Country music is the modus operandi this week as we zero in on a couple of fine new recordings of the 100-proof honky tonk ilk.
Dualtone Records 80302-01226
For the Nashville-based band BR549, the true salad days were the mid-to-late 1990s The band had parlayed a lengthy residency playing in the front window stage of a downtown Nashville boot shop-by-day-honky tonk-by-night joint on lower Broadway called Robert’s Western World into a deal with Arista Records’ Nashville arm. Playing seven nights a week at Robert’s for upwards of three-plus hours each evening, BR549, then called BR5-49 which was Junior Samples’ telephone exchange from the Hee Haw television show, specialized in reinvigorating classic hillbilly tunes. As talented as they come (and not surprising given the Robert’s stint), the band was all the rave in country music thanks to the resulting self-titled 1996 debut on Arista. A throwback affair if not only for the hillbilly rockin’ arrangements that dominated the recording, the album introduced many a listener to classic yesteryear tunes from everyone from Moon Mullican to Webb Pierce to Ray Price to even Gram Parsons. It was just another one of those periodic jolts in the arm Nashville needs to remember its roots. What with the whole alt country movement beginning to blossom, the timing could not have been more perfect on that front, either. Two years later came the follow-up release called Big Backyard Beat Show. Following much the same formula as the debut recording but with a lot more polish and flash to the overall sound, Big Backyard Beat Show wasn’t nearly as successful as the debut. Had the novelty of a modern hillbilly band worn off? For the fair weather fans, apparently it had. Even still, BR5-49 remained a top notch live band that still had plenty of gas in its tank. In all there were three albums for Arista, not to mention three Grammy nominations. Sony Music came calling in 2001 and released This Is BR549. Unfortunately, personnel matters in the form of the departures of original members Gary Bennett and Jay McDowell helped bring about the demise of the band. Newly reformed in 2004 with the only holdovers from the original lineup lead singer and guitarist Chuck Mead, multi-instrumentalist Don Herron, and drummer Shawn Wilson, the band rebounded with a new suitor in Dualtone Records and a winning debut album in Tangled In the Pines. Now entering its 10th year in the business, the band kicks off 2006 with a new recording called Dog Days. Gone are the hillbilly hijinks of the early albums as this latest, save for cover songs of Dave Edmunds’ “A-1 On the Jukebox” and the ballad treatment given Nashville pal Tim Carroll’s “After the Hurricane”, is a straight-up recording of original songs done up in a variety of styles. It spans the blazing bluegrass of the leadoff track “Poison” to the nifty jazzy country blues of “Lower Broad Street Blues” to rockabilly stomp “Leave It Alone” to the hard country of the Edmunds tune to the gospel strands of “The Devil And Me” with legendary vocal group The Jordanaires providing backup. And while the looks may be refreshingly varied, the constant is the musicianship and harmonies which are stellar throughout. Sure Dog Days may not find favor at commercial country radio. (All too many that do could stand to learn a lesson or two on music-making from this band.) Whereas it is difficult to peg the band on Dog Days, what there is no mistaking is that BR549 remains a country band through and through, and a darn good one at that. (Dualtone Records, 1614 17th Avenue South, Nashville, TN 37212, or www.dualtone.com)
Sings Heartache Numbers
Goofin’ Records GRACD6704
Blame it in part on the fact that her local gigs in Austin, Texas are few and far between (she gigs more overseas than on her home front), her Stateside touring is nearly non-existent, and that she records for a label based out of Finland. Listen to her sing and I think you’ll quickly agree that she is one of America’s, let alone Austin’s best kept secrets. For all her elusiveness, singer Marti Brom is a force to be reckoned with who for all her petiteness, can belt it with the best of them. The diminutive Brom has made her mark primarily on the rockabilly circuit with several excellent albums on the Goofin’ Records imprint. Whereas Brom has dabbled in songs outside the rockabilly spectrum on those various releases in the process proving she is a very diverse vocalist, it is not until her latest album that she ditches the genre entirely. Demonstrating the poise, bravado, and flat-out interpretive mastery of a Patsy Cline, on Sings Heartache Numbers Ms. Brom dives head first into country music trotting out 13 superb covers (not to mention a dandy ghost track). The approach was fairly simple, select heartache songs with a number in the title and count ’em up one through 13. What better person to help see it through than that walking encyclopedia of country songs Justin Trevino who in addition to playing rhythm guitar and bass on this record is the producer. No doubt Trevino had a role in the song picking which in the highly capable voice of Brom have new life breathed into each and every one of them. “One Way Ticket to the Blues”, “Alone at a Table for Two”, “Three Hearts Later”, “Four Walls”, you get the idea. With wads of terrific fiddle and steel bolstering the arrangements, Sings Heartache Numbers is a true classic country album. Highly recommended. (Goofin’ Records, P.O. Box 160011, Austin, TX 78746, or www.goofinrecords.com)
(Dan Ferguson is a free-lance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 – 9 pm on WRIU-FM 90.3. He lives in Peace Dale and can be reached at email@example.com.)