Music In Brief

Because of its offbeat name and sparkly sound, Pinmonkey has had a tough time getting a fair hearing on country radio, but the band's new Big Shiny Cars (Back Porch) should appeal to fans of the good kind of pop-country—the kind that fuses Gram Parsons and Matthew Sweet. Highlights include "That Train Don't Run," with its clean, pure melody, and the sprawling "Fallin' All The Time," with its tight jamming and sandpapery slide guitar. If radio programmers do decide to pay attention this time, they should head straight to "Love Sometimes," a big, sappy crowd-pleaser that showcases Mike Reynolds' sweetly soaring vocals… B+

Second-generation country outlaw Shooter Jennings mixes idioms like mad on his new album Electric Rodeo (Universal South), a record best exemplified by the stirring "Gone To Carolina," which is indebted both to Lynyrd Skynyrd and to Bon Jovi. The album contains a fair number of memorable songs—especially the rueful ramble "Little White Lines" and the trucker gospel-stomp "Manifesto No. 2"—but while Jennings' effort suffers a little by comparison to Hank Williams III's more ambitious Straight To Hell, he scores a coup with "Aviators," a weepy song with a spoken-word verse about "that time I took you to Waffle House and you made me mad"… B

Shooter Jennings' mother Jessi Colter returns to her solo singing career for the first time in two decades with Out Of The Ashes (Shout! Factory), a low-key, gospel-tinged singer-songwriter album that aches with the loss of Colter's late husband Waylon Jennings, whose voice appears on the trunk song "Out Of The Rain." It's a plain record, supported by rippling piano and simple, purposefully repetitive lyrics, but Colter transcends her style on "The Canyon," which sounds like a twangy version of Joni Mitchell… B

BR549 co-founder Gary Bennett leaves kitsch-country aside but holds onto his classic C&W roots on his first solo album, Human Condition (Landslide), which leans heavy on the chug-chug and thwack-thwack. Bennett aims for "winningly sincere," and hits the target on the workingman's lament "Human Condition" (featuring the line "the boss thinks he's a king… someday he's going to get crowned"), and the salute to small pleasures "Things That Mean A Lot To Me" (a list which includes "talking in bed" and "the kids watching TV")… B

The R. Crumb cover art and Van Dyke Parks producing credit on Marley's Ghost's new retro-folk album Spooked (Sage Arts/Ryko) makes the record look more special than it actually is. It's mostly corny and low-rent, and not appreciably different from what most local string-music combos could produce. Still, it's a respectable piece of "ye olde fashioned" bluegrass and ragtime, which succeeds at its straightest, on songs like the hummy "Sail Away, Ladies" and the reverently country "High Walls"… B-

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Only the slightest tinge of nostalgic exploitation mars Jeremiah Lockwood's American Primitive (Vee-Ron), which otherwise bewitches with imaginative roadhouse blues reinventions like "Baby What You Want Me To Do" (enhanced by a free-blowing sax and Lockwood's strangled voice), "No More In This Life" (with its tiptoe beat and long melodic line), and "Stolen Moments" (which sounds like an old war ballad, all cadence and tears)… B+

Cranky roots-rock troubadour Scott Miller channels Steve Earle on his new record Citation (Sugar Hill), a collection of songs about decaying Americana. Miller's best stories are rooted in something real, as on the World War II soldier sketch "The Only Road," the goofy Dear John story "Jody," and the toe-tapping "Say Ho," which amiably salutes accidental patriots… B+

The smoky rasp and forthright lyrics of Georgia singer-songwriter Ken Will Morton go a long way toward making even the stock country-rock confessionals on King Of Coming Around (Fundamental) personal and passionate. Morton's roots sense stretches from the swampy R&B of "Beautiful Moment" to the acoustic jangle of "Michael," and it coheres sublimely on the easy-flowing "Adelayda," which recalls Bob Dylan in the '70s, Grateful Dead's "Bertha," and latter-day Dylan/Dead lovers like The Silos and Whiskeytown… B

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Matt Nathanson is a genial guitar-slinger in the John Mayer/Dashboard Confessional mode, with more memorable lyrics and personal charisma than timeless melodies. He's perhaps best experienced live, where his genuinely funny between-song patter and obvious audience rapport help sell songs of slow-simmering sorrow. The live album At The Point (Acrobat) frames Nathanson well, especially when he launches into the breezy-but-stinging "Princess" and the sweetly wispy "Suspended," both keen examples of what he does best. B