See Rock City

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This Richmond VA group's hopped-up acoustic hillbilly continues in the vein of their debut and vocalist/songwriter Wes Freed's previous project, Dirtball. With a rootsy edge that hovers between prickly punk and good-time Grand Ole Opry, See Rock City adds guests on dobro, lap steel, and even saw, who scruff up the already unkempt approach. Regardless of the album's name and the occasional thumping Bo Diddley beat utilized in "Water From the Well," the album is driven by banjo, accordion, and fiddle, along with guitar and barely noticeable percussion. There's not much rock here, but that's fine. The Shiners' roughed up country and honky tonk, propelled by the harmonies of husband and wife Wes and Jyl Freed, approximate what The Knitters might have sounded like if they had lasted for more than an album. The tendency of this music to slide into Deliverance-style self-parody is kept in check by the intermittent ballad like "Dixie Lullaby," a lovely lament that is the album's most affecting performance. Even jokey titles like "Elvis Sings to Jesus" are redeemed by tough playing and detailed lyrics that tell the tragic story of the singer's girlfriend who perished in a train crash. Far too ornery for mass consumption by the O Brother, Where Art Thou? bandwagon riders, The Shiners use their bluegrass and mountain roots to craft affecting and non-commercial music that pays homage to their roots yet remains way off the beaten path.

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