Out Here

Amy Crenshaw and the Crosstown Boys
Amy Crenshaw and the Crosstown Boys


No one's going to confuse Amy Crenshaw with Wanda Jackson (c. 1955) or Patsy Cline (c. "Sweet Dreams"), if only because the former's living in Oklahoma when she's not touring the Christian rockabilly circuit in Sweden and the latter's dead and buried in LeAnn Rimes' tour bus. Here's a disc for all those who can't tell the difference between the revivalist and the revisionist; hence, a play-it-straight "Sweet Dreams" (otherwise known as: "Why, God, Why?") and the nine Alan Wooley-penned (or co-penned, as Amy shares some of the credit) originals that prove the ex-Killbillyboy was born 40 years too late. Were it not for Wooley's presence here -- as guitarist, singer, producer -- it might be easy to write off this whole shindig as yet another fad-frenzied affair, an on-the-cheap grab-bag of country-rockabilly-swing intended to capitalize on some pop-cult zeitgeist long since faded. To claim he saves Amy Crenshaw and the Crosstown Boys from the discard pile would perhaps give him too much credit -- Crenshaw, indeed, makes for a credible heroine in this flashback saga -- but he goes a long way toward making it credible. And credibility, otherwise known as sincerity where your folks come from, counts for everything.

After all, this is a city built upon tattered trends and borrowed styles, and to offer yourself up as some nouveau-retro hop-along gal, as Crenshaw does, only plays into the hands of cynics and nonbelievers who mistake affection for affectation. Amy and husband Mitchell (formerly known as Hank and Patsy) have always been the best sort of nostalgists, paying homage to the past without robbing it blind. They're aware of their limitations (Mitchell's on rhythm guitar), but all the more emboldened because of them; overcompensation is often the key to confident self-awareness, and Amy Crenshaw is as cocksure as a cat in a locked room full of two-legged mice. Her voice, once as thin as wet paper, has suddenly blossomed, or perhaps erupted is a better word; the way she sings, "Don't rattle my cage, ya big monkey, or I might have to set you free," it comes across as a playful threat, a devilish sneer sung through a deceitful grin. It doesn't happen often enough on the disc -- there are times when it sounds as though she's being channeled through a transistor radio -- but Crenshaw makes for a convincing rockabilly lead: Attitude, in this genre, is three-quarters of the battle.

But this is a disc, like those of Johnny Reno and Kim Lenz and Mr. Pink, that begs you to choose sides: Either you forgive its derivation (half the 13 songs sound like inspired but too-familiar echoes; the closer, "My Lucky Day," sounds just like "Jingle Bell Rock") or revel in its backward-glancing. Either you accept its nostalgia or deplore its tendency to play it straight and safe. Or, like me, you do both -- like it for what it is and hate it for, well, what it was.

Robert Wilonsky

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