Cole Deggs & the Lonesome would seem to be true outsiders in Nashville, arriving fully developed on their self-titled debut album. This isn't so, of course, since no band on the scene -- particularly in 21st century country music -- has arrived fully formed from the ether. Deggs is well known in Nashville for his songwriting talents, contributing to the catalogs of Kenny Chesney and Tracy Byrd. The band contains two pairs of brothers, Cole (lead vocals and rhythm guitar) and Shade (bass), who hail from Texas, and David and Jimmy Wallace on lead guitar and keyboards, respectively, from Louisiana (the latter three all sing backing vocals), and drummer Brian Hayes fills out the roster. Though Deggs is a gifted songwriter, in typical fashion, Nashville isn't taking any chances on a debut album; Deggs co-wrote four tunes of the 11 here. Produced by veterans Mark Wright and Rivers Rutherford, the set also includes tunes by well-known Music City songwriting regulars such as Angelo, Dave Berg, Hillary Lindsay, Anders Osborne, Tom Shapiro, Toy Caldwell, Phil O'Donnell, Jim Collins, and Rutherford. The band's sound is what keeps it all cohesive. Deggs, whose gritty rough-hewn voice is more Southern rock than country, roars out of the gate whether it's on a tumbling rocker or a ballad. The three-part harmonies that support him make the tunes a bit sweeter while retaining a roots feel, and make the tunes accessible for radio.
Nashville cares a lot about how a group "looks," and if that were their only real criterion, this one would do well what with their rugged good looks and no-nonsense enthusiasm for letting it rip. Their live shows are something to behold, they set concert attendees on fire. A 2007 Hoedown festival show in Detroit turned heads and caused fists to pump from the front of the crowd to the back, and sent them to roaring with approval. The band took the day despite the early hour they played and the presence of many big name entertainers on the bill following them. The record doesn't begin to capture what the band is like live, but it's a solid debut. Storytelling songs like Deggs' "Girl Next Door" has Wallace's dirty Telecaster setting the tone. Deggs tells a simple story of young love in memory. It roils, spits and contains a hook-laden chorus to kill for. It's the simplicity that attracts. Like a young John Mellencamp or a Southern -- and more innocent -- version of Bob Seger, Deggs knows how to bring the archetypes so unique to America right to the fore. "I Got More," the first single by Collins and Rutherford, is a nice follow-up in that perhaps it extends the story in the previous tune and perhaps not. It's tempered, slower, less intense, though Wallace's guitar is barely contained in the refrain. But then it's a love song, its melody is sophisticated, and there's the sound a Fender Rhodes picking up the slack from underneath lending some depth and dimension to the track. Deggs sings the tune as if it were one of his own. It's perfect for radio the video for CMT and GAC. It's also believable because Deggs understands something in a song lyrics that most people don't: he doesn't have to oversell it because the band can more than carry its own half of the emotional delivery. "The One That Got Away," with its infectious pop hook and the layers of acoustic guitars, has backing vocals that turn the melody back on the lead signer and add a level of romanticism to the song that is nearly transcendent. Again, David Wallace's electric guitar fills -- which are never fancy, just meaty -- are in all the right places. The Deggs-Trey Matthews penned "Huggin' This Blacktop" (again textured by a Fender Rhodes, meaning that nothing is off limits in country these days, thank God) is a very sophisticated mid-tempo ballad with some gorgeous jazz chords in the intro though the tune is pure modern country. "Do You Ever Think About Me," written by Osborne, Aimee Mayo and Chris Lindsey is a good song made great by the Lonesome. The band uses the melody to open the memory of the listener, taking her back to long spent passions, Its hook and refrain create a space where bittersweet memory is a pleasure in itself. The sounds of a B-3 and 12-string floating atop big tom toms before the refrain comes crashing back evoke all the right emotions. The album closer, "No I Haven't Stopped Hurtin," is a scorching country rocker that combines blues and bluegrass and it feels more like Toy Caldwell with Marshall Tucker in the modern age. It twists and turns and drives and sends it all off a burning note. It's a promising first set by a band with a unique sound; they can sing, write, arrange, and play the hell out of their instruments while being uniquely themselves. That's not faint praise in a town where conformity has been the maker's mark for decades. Like Montgomery Gentry, Big & Rich, Gretchen Wilson, Sugarland and Brooks & Dunn -- who kicked the new adventuresome spirit in Nashville off in the first place -- these guys have a shot at scratching their names on the wall.