Eleven Hundred Springs and Exit 380

Midway Self-released Townies (Hand Drawn Records)

Listening to any effort from Eleven Hundred Springs, including latest Midway, is like having your cool uncle pull out his favorite albums. Matt Hillyer and crew have that old-school country sound down. When the band started up way back in 1998, some folks thought it was just guys imitating the sounds of Merle Haggard, George Jones and Hank Williams, but over the course of seven albums, Eleven Hundred Springs have evolved into a tight unit of true believers. Songs like "I'm a S.O.B. (When I'm S-O-B-E-R)" and "Hard Work Just Ain't Working Anymore" are not imitative of the band's influences. They are authoritative narratives of rural America.

Exit 380, on the other hand, come to roots music from the rock end of the spectrum. Townies, the band's fifth full-length, continues the Americana vibe first suggested on 2008's The Life and Death of Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Stone. Prior to that, Exit 380 were content conjuring up moody rock songs that would have fit well on albums by Stone Temple Pilots or Alice in Chains. What's still surprising is how well singer Dustin Blocker's pipes sound so perfectly placed within the context of country songs like "Run for the Gold" and "Daddy Was a Freight Train."

What both Eleven Hundred Springs and Exit 380 share is a commitment to the true soul of country music — what Steve Earle calls real music. And while neither band looks like your conventional country act, both understand the tradition and spirit that make up true Americana. It's all about honesty and lack of pretense.

 
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