Bonus Beats

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BR5-49 are a young band from Nashville who play country & western music as if they just stepped out of a honky tonk circa 1957, and whose fans include Ralph Stanley, Guy Clark, and Kay Adams. Steve Albini is a recording engineer who emerged from Chicago's volatile punk rock scene to oversee sessions with such advocates of the abrasive as Helmet, the Jesus Lizard, and Killdozer. So putting them together sounds like a marriage made in heaven, right? Well, it's a lot closer than you'd imagine; BR5-49 rolled into Electrical Recording studio for a three-day session with Albini at the controls shortly after they wrapped up their second full-length album, Big Backyard Beat Show, and the jumpin' Bonus Beats EP was the result. While as a engineer Albini is best known for his work with punishingly loud rock bands, he's also shown a sure hand with quieter stuff (most notably on Robbie Fulks's Country Love Songs), and his dry but roomy sound, full of natural ambience, flatters BR5-49's live-in-the-studio performances; the result sounds like a higher-fi version of an old Bradley's Barn session, and captures the interplay of one of country's best live acts with greater accuracy than their more polished studio stuff. And while the group didn't bring any new material to these sessions, it's a solid collection of great songs, and the versions of "18 Wheels and a Crowbar" and "Seven Nights to Rock" easily outpace those on Big Backyard Beat Show. Unfortunately, Bonus Beats was only released as a promo item (it was included as a bonus disc with some copies of Big Backyard Beat Show), but it's well worth digging up for fans, and BR5-49 could do a lot worse than to give this successful experiment another try, as Steve Albini gets more of their live magic on tape than the Nashville studio hands they're accustomed to.

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