Various Artists

Strange Country

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You can't say that the folks who compiled the album Strange Country don't embrace the concept of truth in advertising. While the 18 songs featured here are hardly the be-all and end-all of the dark and troubling underbelly of country music and its rock-related offshoots, Strange Country at least attempts to clearly document the consistent strain of morbid thought that's long been common to the genre. Ranging from the sad and pessimistic visions of such country icons as Hank Williams, Sr., Johnny Cash, and Willie Nelson to the gloomy atmospherics of contemporary alt country and Americana acts like Calexico, Jolie Holland, and the Handsome Family, Strange Country makes room along the way for everyone from Gene Clark to M. Ward, and while there are a few tracks that smack of novelty (most notably Grey DeLisle's twangy cover of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody"), thankfully the significant majority of the folks on this disc aren't playing for laughs -- in this context, even Porter Wagoner's infamously eccentric "Rubber Room" summons the morbid power it was clearly intended to have. While the folks at Albion Records could dig a lot deeper into the musical heritage of "Old Weird America" for a future, Strange Country at least presents 18 songs that are as challenging and satisfying as they are outré.

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