Eleven Hundred Springs

Says "Featuring Kim Pendleton" on the all-chips-on-the-table cover, and advertising the cameo's a pretty safe bet; the appearance of the Vibrolux singer, who's all smoke and no mirrors, promises and delivers something special inside the jewel case. Of course, this ain't no George-n-Tammy retrofit, no Gram-n-Emmy revival, no John-n-Exene redux. Pendleton's voice doesn't go hand-in-hand--or, more to the point, fist-in-jaw--with that of Eleven Hundred Springs' Matt Hillyer; where he goes long (on tradition, back at least to, oh, Waylon), she goes deep, and their pairing proves the difference if it doesn't exactly split it. Meaning: She's way down in the mix, and not because her mike level's off, where Hillyer's extant rocker's twang likes to be out front and on top, which only serves to remind who's the special guest and who's the star. Then again, Pendleton, a Princess Tex from way back, need not get loud to get under your skin and into your bloodstream; hers is less the voice of heartache than the sting of it that resurfaces when you thought you'd forgotten all about it. So be it: The hiring alone reveals the Good Taste for which the Springs have always been lauded by the locals.

This five-song EP, too short by three, covers the verities (and John Prine) that make country music as dependable as a John Deere: songs about "sharing your heart like an open book," how they'll be forever lovers like "Romeo and Juliet, Bonnie and Clyde," waiting "for just one broken dream to come true" and other aphorisms you know by broken heart but adore anyway over a sixer of long-neck Lone Stars. Besides, it's all in the delivery, and this gang of rockers who arrived at country through the back door play this stuff like it's brand-new; Aaron Wynne still cradles that pedal steel like he got it last Christmas, and you can hear the grin on his face. Still, the last cut may be the deepest: a gangbang rendition of Prine's "Illegal Smile," a trib to tokin' sung by folks, including Max Stalling and Buddy Miller, just this side of stoned. Gets you high every time.


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