Hillbilly Idol

Hillbilly Idol

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There's little doubt that Hillbilly Idol have a stunning mastery of many classic country styles -- not many these days could go from the skills of the instrumental "Four Brothers" to the Merle Travis-like humor of "Hillbilly Polka" without missing a beat. Their writing, too, is largely flawless, able to take on almost any country style. However, impressive as all that is, it's also the problem with Hillbilly Idol -- there's no sense of who they are behind all the musical masks. It's all very well to have range and technique -- and there's no doubt they have both of those, in spades -- but very rarely do they connect. It says something that the most touching song here is "Late in the Day" from Tim O'Brien. However, none of that means this isn't a wonderfully enjoyable album if taken at face value. Some excellent songs and playing, a great way to pass an hour or so, and music to warm the heart of anyone whose love of country music dates back to the '50s and '60s -- there's very little that even pretends to be contemporary here. Songs like "Dixie Highway Home" and "Between Here and Heaven and Gone" have all the familiarity of old friends while being complete strangers -- all the old elements arranged in some way. It's impossible not to enjoy this record, to hear "One Step Forward," for example, and not smile. Wonderful stuff -- as long as you don't expect too much from it.

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