Sounding across between Dire Straits and Bruce Springsteen, Jerry Joseph's Conscious Contact somehow falls safely under the umbrella of roots rock while remaining thoroughly modern sounding. While Joseph over-emotes from time to time, his songs brim with a defiant earnestness. The former Little Women vocalist is again joined by bassist Junior Ruppel and drummer Brad Rosen, as well as a sizable crew of special guests. Produced by Widespread Panic bassist Dave Schools, the album features appearances from some of Schools' bandmates, Michael Houser and Todd Nance (both on "The Fastest Horse In Town"), as well as other Southern roots rock luminaries, such as singer Vic Chesnutt, producer John Keane, and pianist Chuck Leavell. The vibe of the disc is stripped down, with a dry production comparable to Kevn Kinney's Broken Hearts and Auto Parts: pedal steel and acoustic guitars create a bed for fuzzily jangling electric instruments. Lyrically, Joseph dabbles in the usual roots rock clichés -- "Taste the whiskey on your breath/It's as much as I can drink these days," he sings on "Pure Life" -- but manages to pull them off convincingly, perhaps because he fleshes them out with decent narratives. Much of the material veers toward muscular near-arena rock, and the band reveals their shortcomings when they push too hard in that particular direction.