Hands Up!

Two Dollar Pistols

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Hands Up! Review

by Hal Horowitz

The ever-changing lineup of this Chapel Hill, NC, band keeps shifting for their fourth album, with only guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Scott McCall on board from the previous release. Regardless, John Howie Jr. unspools another set of traditional honky tonk that sounds like it could have been recorded in 1954, not 2004. Keeping this dusty music pure and close to its roots is the intent, of course. The songs are all originals, written or co-written by Howie, and at their best sound like lost covers written in the heyday of country & western. In particular, the comparatively jaunty "There Goes My Baby" sounds like a great old Everly Brothers tune with its easy rolling melody, low-boil twang, and instantly memorable chorus. But this album works because Howie effectively mixes upbeat tracks with the ballads he sings so convincingly in his trademarked booming baritone croon. "Lonely All Alone" even increases the tempo to almost a rockabilly speed. Howie must have a disappointing love life, since his compositions all come from the cheating side of town ("It's All Fun and Games [Til Someone Breaks a Heart]" and "Too Bad That You're Gone" are two potent examples), but they comfortably reside in the genre he resurrects so successfully. The disc's multiple eye-catching photos of a Grade B black-and-white '50s Western with a buxom blonde bombshell harnessing a pistol is an apt metaphor for the lovely yet edgy sad tunes the band gravitates to. This album, with its charming and retro low-key twang, could be the soundtrack to that flick.

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