Steel Magnolia

Steel Magnolia

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Steel Magnolia, the duo comprised of singer/songwriters Meghan Linsey and Joshua Scott Jones, gained Nashville's attention when they won the second season of CMT's television program, Can You Duet? Their debut single, "Keep on Lovin' You," slowly inched up the country charts and hit number five. They subsequently released an EP and two other download-only singles in 2009 and 2010. Their self-titled album -- issued a week after they were nominated in the "best new group or duo" category by ACM -- contains not only their hit, but the studio tracks from their EP -- "Edge of Goodbye," "Ooh La La," and "Just by Being You (Halos and Wings)," and the subsequent single "Last Night Again." Steel Magnolia are an able, energetic, vocally savvy country pop act, and stress the word "pop" in that phrase. Other than a banjo here and a fiddle or pedal steel there, this may be what passes for country music in the 21st century, but simply put, it's '80s-styled pop with different production. Dann Huff, who not only produced the set but plays all over it, guided the duo to turn in a by-the-numbers, radio-friendly disc that will offend no one and is pleasant as background noise, but leaves the question of what distinguishes it from countless others unanswered. Other than "Keep on Lovin' You," the most notable things here are the opener "Ooh La La," a sassy, rockist seduction song, and a reading of Keith Urban's "Homespun Love" (written while he was still with the Range) near the very end of the album. The latter, with acoustic slide guitars melded to crunchy electrics, a funky, shuffling backbeat, and the contrasting contralto and baritone voices of Linsey and Jones in call-and-response and chorus formulations, add a sense of playfulness and swagger to the original that wasn't there before. The closer, "Glass Houses," written by Jones, is a solid country waltz, with a lilting three-chord structure, sweet mandolin and fiddle fills, and old-school harmonies. It's a weeper that actually resonates with genuine emotion (as opposed to the insipid, "Just by Being You (Halos and Wings)." The rest of this album is basically harmless filler designed to re-shop the singles and give the act a product to tour behind.

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