Dog Days

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For a while, BR5-49 were supposed to be the band who could save Nashville from the worst impulses of the music business, but Music City turned out to be a bit stronger than they were. After a pair of major label deals went south, the trad-country upstarts started to splinter, with bassist Jay McDowel and guitarist/vocalist Gary Bennett leaving the band in 2001. BR5-49 bounced back for 2004's fine indie offering Tangled in the Pines, but new members Chris Scruggs and Geoff Firebaugh had already parted ways with the group by the time they were ready to record again, and when multi-instrumentalist Don Herron was tapped to join Bob Dylan's road band, it was an open question if BR5-49 would survive to go into the studio again. The good news is that they have, and if the four-piece edition of BR5-49 that recorded Dog Days is a leaner and less rambunctious outfit than the folks who cut the Live at Robert's EP in 1996, they still have plenty to offer, and in many respects this is the group's bravest album yet. While musically "Bottom of Priority" is pure old-school country, the lyrics (about embattled Native American activist Leonard Peltier) are the last thing you might expect from this band, and all the more powerful for it. "Lower Broad Street Blues" is a bittersweet look at the scene that gave birth to the band (co-written with the great Guy Clark), the cover of Tim Carroll's "After the Hurricane" gains a whole new poignancy in the wake of Hurricane Katrina (as does their ode to the pleasures of life in Louisiana, "Cajun Persuasion"), and "Let Jesus Make You Breakfast" is as engaging and odd as anything this band has ever released. The arrangements on Dog Days are tighter and simpler than before, but they're also effective, with Herron still playing up a storm on anything handed to him, and Chuck Mead still a gifted and versatile vocalist. John Keane's clean and unobtrusive production is the perfect complement to the group's new sound, and the result is an album that sounds different than BR5-49 have in the past, but still displays the same musical honesty and integrity that's always been their hallmark. BR5-49 live, and on Dog Days that's a fine thing indeed.

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