The painting on the front cover of My Temptation, The Lucky Pierres' follow-up to 1998's Cocktail Country, more or less sums up all of the songs inside: A sad-eyed waitress finishes her shift with good cry and a bad cup of coffee while a broken heart hovers outside under a street light, waiting for her to turn around. That exact scene would fit right in on songs like "Jacksboro Highway," "Cheating Is Going Around," and, obviously, "Never Turn Around" and "Cry or Bawl." Yet that artwork--which was created in a place somewhere between between somber and hopeful, with bright colors and dark feelings, simple pictures and complex ideas--carries on throughout all 13 songs on My Temptation. While the disc may "Stray" to questions of "Right or Wrong" and "Cheap Thrill"(s), it always comes right back to that moment, that time when you don't know whether love is leaving or staying.
My Temptation is a kissing-cousin of The Lucky Pierres' last outing, yet it is so much more, filled out not only by horns and banjos and dobros, but also by the group's increasing confidence in what it's doing. What it is doing is reclaiming country both from the new pop "country" that Nashville cranks out these days and from the alternative country scene as well; there is no irony here because there doesn't need to be. Why hide behind anything when you have a singer, Michele Pittenger, with a voice full of honey and smoke? Why wear goofy, "Yeah, we know" smiles when you're a band that can make tradition sound so new, so fresh? Guitarists Kim Herriage and Philip Prince make decades-old riffs come alive again, instead of letting them creak across the dance floor, trying to remember the old steps. With bassist Bart Chaney and drummer Frank Pittenger, The Lucky Pierres are adept at turning ancient echoes into new melodies. So good, in fact, that you never even notice them doing it.
Like Cocktail Country, My Temptation is a beautiful album, full of the lushness ("Jacksboro Highway"'s "Ring of Fire" trumpets, courtesy of Mark Griffin) and cleverness that are rarely heard in country music--though with each album, The Lucky Pierres seem to be cutting into that deficit. Sure, Michele Pittenger could out-duel LeAnn Rimes in a Patsy Cline sound-alike contest, and the group, at times, comes off as though it's auditioning to be the house band at the Grand Ole Opry. But they use their influences instead of letting their influences use them, bending them to fit into the song instead of letting the melody run toward familiarity. The songs definitely return to the past, but they never stay there for long. The only thing the backwards-glancing does is remind you of how good country music used to be. And how good it could be again.