Out There

New Country
The Picketts
Euphonium
Rounder Records

"Euphony" is a pleasant concordance of sound, but with this, their third album, the Picketts have done more than fall easy on the ears: They've made one of the most affecting arguments for country as white folks' soul music to come down the pike. Maybe it was trying to be a country band in grungy Seattle that brought about such a clear distillation, but credit is also due to the brilliance of singer and principle songwriter Christy McWilson. Her voice is pure but adaptable, and with drummer-singer Leroy Sleep as foil the two recall the best vocal combos: Emmylou and Gram, George and Tammy.

The playing has a modern edge but traditional sensibility, whether moaning sadly along with the self-deceiver in "House of Cards" or propelling the statement of intent that is the lead-off "Good Good Wife," wherein McWilson rejects the last-in-line role of a good li'l helpmate, opting instead for "a good, good life." The band is likewise self-empowered: John Oluf's guitar-playing can do the swing, the twang, and the twist with equal skill; the rhythm section forms a solid, polished floor for the songs and solos to dance across. Of course, country is the land of chops without chutzpa, but the Picketts are no NashVegas ninnies, a point they make quite clearly with their total domination of two unlikely covers: The Who's "Teenage Wasteland," which comes off here as a if the Louvin Brothers had written it; and the Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" done so convincingly as a rolling shuffle that you'd swear it was the Brits who treated our song to a punked-up cover.

--Matt Weitz

BR5-49
BR5-49
Arista Records

Most bands that fall under the rubric of "alternative" country take their cues from the outlaw heroes of the '70s: Merle, Waylon, Willie. BR5-49 digs a little deeper and finds Wills, Williams, and Tubb: According to BR5-49, line-dancing never existed; neither did Billy Ray Cyrus, Urban Cowboy, or any of the Eagles cover bands that pass for country nowadays. The band plays a style of music that comes from a time when some big ol' cowboy would have pounded the crap out of John Michael Montgomery for doing whatever the hell it is he does. Now that big ol' cowboy is doing the "tush push" with a couple of other guys, and Montgomery is on the jukebox.

The last time music like this got any serious play on the radio, the Rangers were still the Senators, but while BR5-49's music is rooted in the past, its lyrics are cut from modern cloth. Songs like "Little Ramona (Gone Hillbilly Nuts)"--the tale of a girl who grew up CBGB's and ended up Grand Ole Opry--sound like what Hank or Lefty would if they were still around.

--Zac Crain

 
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