Charlie Daniels / The Charlie Daniels Band

Redneck Fiddlin' Man

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No surprises here -- but the Charlie Daniels Band is never about surprise. As with most artists who define themselves according to established musical traditions, their goal is to conform to audience expectations. In fact, there's something almost un-American about surprise, according to Daniels: On an album dripping with patriotic affirmation, the terrorists who felled the World Trade Center are reviled as "cowards" who "attacked without a warning" ("The Last Fallen Hero), and the most familiar melody in America, "The Star Spangled Banner," closes things on a comforting note. Other hallmarks of Dixie life, nearly as important as xenophobia, receive attention elsewhere on Redneck Fiddlin' Man: drinkin', oglin', and fightin' on "Southern Boy," the same stuff plus eatin' on "Little Joe and Big Bill," dancin', lovin', and fishin' on "My Baby Plays Me Just Like a Fiddle," NASCAR machismo and the sainthood of Dale Earnhardt on "High Speed Heroes." Daniels isn't the most nuanced singer out there, nor the smoothest fiddler -- but within the confines of the style, which means the span from squint-eyed menace to keg-popping jocularity, no one matches his vocal expressiveness. And let it be said that he unleashes some sizzling fiddle licks on the title track and the jazz-inflected instrumental "Crosstown Traffic," and his rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" conveys the rugged eloquence that marks his style at its best.

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