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Past perfect

Cocktail Country
The Lucky Pierres
Self-released

On the back cover of Cocktail Country--the debut full-length by The Lucky Pierres--there is a photograph of the band sitting around a table at Sons of Hermann Hall, decked out in their retro finest. Taken out of context, the band in the photo could be BR5-49 or any one of the other bands that turned tradition into shtick. Behind the band, almost hidden by the shadows, is the punch line, a sign on the wall that reads, "We Recycle." The sign's inclusion probably wasn't intentional, a mere coincidence if anything, but its appearance in the photo is somehow appropriate. It's a clue to what is contained inside, 14 songs that echo with the ghosts of Patsy Cline and Bob Wills and Hank Williams. Yet it's not entirely fair to dismiss Cocktail Country as a mere recycling of country tradition, a disc of originals made by a band of revivalists who are betting their future on the past.

Despite the band's fashion sense and singer Michele Pittenger's occasional ability to sound just like Cline, The Lucky Pierres have the ability to be a genius pop band if they want to. It's a side best heard on songs such as "Steer Me Home" and "It's a Pity," a beautiful tune that's as breezy and carefree as a Sunday-morning drive in the country with the top down. However, most of the rest of the songs on Cocktail Country live up to the album's title. Songs such as "Heart of Mine" (which was also featured on this year's Scene, Heard compilation), "If You Have Love," and "New Green Grass" are dance-hall boot-scooters, while others, such as "Let's Run Around" and "Hot and Cold," sound more like the soundtrack for a happy-hour round of martinis. But the difference is slight, and the entire album would be right at home in either place. The band--Pittenger, guitarist Tom Battles, bassist Bart Chaney, pedal steel player-guitarist Kim Herriage, and drummer Frank Pittenger--handles both styles equally well, blurring the line between Western swing and cocktail jazz easier than a double shot of Absolut.

Cocktail Country is a beautiful album, full of richness and subtlety that isn't often heard in country music. In the end, that's what The Lucky Pierres really are, a country band--and a damned fine one at that. Don't be fooled by the band's brief forays into cocktail jazz; The Pierres only linger in the lounge long enough to order another cold Shiner before heading back onto the dance floor. And don't be fooled by the band's retro look either. While the songs definitely revisit the past, they don't live there. The band is good because it knows its history. But it could be great because it doesn't want merely to repeat it. Maybe that sign should read, "We Remember."

--Zac Crain

 
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