Backyard Tire Fire

Vagabonds and Hooligans (o.i.e.)

Ed Anderson leads this alt-country trio from Illinois, and it's on their fourth full-length release that he moves beyond the standard blue-collar sentimentalism that dogs many in the Americana genre. Anderson still takes his cues from Neil Young, Slobberbone and Whiskeytown, but now he's come to appreciate the finer points of songwriting that distinguish folks such as Jeff Tweedy and Gram Parsons. Instead of relying on the simple structures of the past, Vagabonds moves into decidedly more skillful territory without sacrificing an ounce of hayseed authenticity.

Songs such as "Green-Eyed Soul," "The Wrong Hand" and "Undecided" would have seemed out of place on earlier releases but now fit the ragged fabric of Vagabondslike children stumbling into an arcade. "My eyes are swollen, my fingertips red/Woke up this morning in need of a bed," sings Anderson on "A Long Time," expressing a weary joy that summarizes the new effort's charm perfectly. Even the traditional (and predictable) feelings of a song such as "Tom Petty" now serve as a moment of light-hearted relief instead of the standard operating procedure.

Like Brent Best (The Drams) and Patterson Hood (Drive-By Truckers), Ed Anderson has learned that the paths of success often deviate delightfully from the limits of the straight and narrow.

 
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