Out Here

All honky, no tonk
John B. Wells
Kansa Records

Back when Jim Beck ruled Ross Avenue, recording the likes of Lefty Frizzell, Ray Price and Marty Robbins for Uncle Art Satherly at Columbia, Dallas was on its way to becoming the industry's Nashville when Nashville was just a pit-stop town. Dallas was filled with top-notch studio pros who hung out at the Big D Jamboree or some local honky-tonk, drinking beer and waiting for Beck to put them to work. Then Beck suffocated on some cleaning fluid one day while scrubbing his studio and sent everyone to Tennessee or Oak Cliff obscurity, and an era ended before it began. Now, Dallas' big "claim to fame" is a 12-year-old singer named Leann Rhimes, signed to a subsidiary of a subsidiary because she's got a good voice and a great gimmick. And they all disco-danced as the honky-tonk burned.

If country music isn't dead and buried with its Tony Lamas pointed south, then Junior Brown never heard of Jimi Hendrix and Ty Herndon was just going pee-pee in that Fort Worth park. In Chicago, they're calling The Old 97's "insurgent country," but that's just because it's folk-rock-pop with a sincere twang; Cowboys and Indians are brilliant revisionists too often pegged as revivalists; and Donny Ray Ford'll never catch a break because he's too good for Nashville. So Jim Beck's promise for Dallas is reduced to this: a record from the voice-over man for WFAA-Channel 8, the deep throat who intros the nightly news.

John Wells is known for his voice, but it sure as hell ain't because he's a great singer. Wells' first foray into the music business is the sort of country record NashVegas churns out by the dozens each month--the words no deeper than a Hallmark card, the music so generic and calculated it's cold even when it strives for emotional warmth. And Wells' voice may be deep, but it has no depth, rendering his platitudes and vacant aphorisms twice meaningless.

Wells' world is a trailer park of love and circumstance--bad-tempered men trying to keep from beating their women, gals who "make love like a rattlesnake," couples driving down that dusty road to ruin in a "beaten-up Chevy truck." When you add it all up, it's isn't a half-bad concept album about a relationship that alternates between violins and violence, but Wells' brand of country is so overwrought and overdone it just gets in the way. And when he credits the musicians as "The Professionals" on the CD card, he's just stating the obvious--in the pros, they play it safe so they can play another day.

If Garth comes off as James Taylor with a hat and a Kiss fetish, then Wells is Neil Diamond wrapped in a duster: The cover of "You Don't Bring Me Flowers," a duet with someone named Sandy Powell, sounds like a pale copy of an already translucent original. The middle of the road is a dangerous place to be in the middle of a stampede.

--Robert Wilonsky

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky

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