It's been 19 years since the Knitters -- a country-tinged offshoot of X with guitarist Dave Alvin and bassist Johnny Ray Bartel in tow -- released Poor Little Critter on the Road. In the meantime, alternative country -- an unfamiliar phrase in 1986 -- has become a recognized genre. The title of the new album, The Modern Sounds of the Knitters, is something of a joke then: first, because there's nothing modern about the Knitters; and second, because alternative country is now a modern sound. The new album lacks the surprise of the first, the sheer oddity of a rock band making a country album. Most listeners, then, are going to listen to The Modern Sounds of the Knitters in the context of Wilco or Lucinda Williams or dozens of other performers covered in No Depression. In that context, two things stand out about the Knitters. First, the band has two solid lead singers, John Doe and Exene, whose voices work great together, and secondly, the guitar work by Alvin is always bright and rocking (even though the album is country-tinged). Still, it would be a shame if The Modern Sounds of the Knitters was just filed under country, alternative or otherwise. The band is simply too hip, and its country-rockabilly-folk sound -- modern or otherwise -- is too fresh to be lumped in with yet another No Depression band on the make. Authenticity is a beautiful thing, but unless a group can bring something new to old songs -- as the Knitters do to "Long Chain On" or "Give Me Flowers While I'm Living" -- then why bother? Of course, listening to Doe and Exene's voices intertwine will have listeners breaking out their old X albums. Certain slower songs, like "Little Margaret," are a bit milquetoast, but the Knitters more than make up for it by closing with a killer version of "Born to Be Wild." Perhaps it just takes a group of players less encased in the modern sounds of alternative country to make a lively, buoyant album like The Modern Sounds of the Knitters.
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AllMusic Review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.