Connor Christian & Southern Gothic

90 Proof Lullabies

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If only record executive Phil Walden were still alive, and Capricorn Records, the label he founded, were still a going concern -- in other words, if only the summer of 1973 had never ended -- Connor Christian & Southern Gothic would be a perfect addition to the company roster alongside the Allman Brothers Band, the Marshall Tucker Band, and Wet Willie. Southern rocker Christian has a smooth, supple tenor that is reminiscent of Jim Croce's voice, and he writes and sings melodic rock songs with country elements (particularly when an instrument such as a banjo, fiddle, or pedal steel guitar is heard). His four-piece band, with himself on guitar and piano, Dan Emmett on multiple stringed instruments, Joe Abramson on bass, and Shawn Thacker on drums, doesn't rock as hard as, say, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and isn't as bluesy as the Allmans, but it isn't country enough for acceptance on Nashville's Music Row, either. Recycled titles like "It's Alright," "Chipping Away," and "Evangeline" (all original compositions) accurately suggest that, as a songwriter, Christian isn't exactly reinventing the wheel, and it's no surprise that his cover of the 1971 Brewer & Shipley hit "One Toke Over the Line" is spot on. But the point here is not innovation, it's listenability, and this is music made to light up faces in drinking establishments across America, especially those south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Occasionally, such as on "3Times" (a song heard in the 2007 film Last Stop for Paul), Christian and the band update their approach a bit, so that they recall such early-'90s jam bands as the Black Crowes, Blues Traveler, and Spin Doctors. (They also sometimes suggest the mainstream '90s rock of Hootie & the Blowfish and Matchbox Twenty, probably in part because producer Jeff Tomei has also worked with the latter.) But much of the time, they exist in a pleasant time warp when "Freebird" and "Whipping Post" were the twin national anthems, at least for those of a Southern sensibility.

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