Big & Rich

Hillbilly Jedi

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What do you do after a joke has run its course? If you're Big & Rich, you decide to take a five-year hiatus, Big Kenny releasing one weird solo album in 2009 and John Rich working harder on his career, following his own 2009 solo venture with a pair of EPs and a role on Celebrity Apprentice. Once that petered out, it was time for the inevitable reunion, the pair returning in the fall of 2012 with Hillbilly Jedi, a record that valiantly attempts to revive their good old shtick, largely through several collaborations with Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora. The pairing of the two duos makes some sense: Big & Rich were always arena rockers at heart and Bon Jovi made his cross over into country during the new millennium. And yet Hillbilly Jedi feels only marginally livelier than Between Raising Hell and Amazing Grace, the 2007 set that effectively stopped their career. Big & Rich abandon the gimmick of dividing the album in halves of ballads and rockers, but they haven't quite changed their approach; they're still flogging the same sticky sentiment and self-aggrandizing country hip-hop that's been their stock in trade since "Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)," even finding space for two cameos from Cowboy Troy, whose act is feeling particularly long in the tooth. Adhering to shtick isn't necessarily a detriment -- plenty of country and rock bands have had healthy careers without ever straying from their original blueprint -- but Big & Rich's sense of humor has faded while their sanctimony has increased, their hooks have dulled and been replaced by mannered professionalism. All this means is that preachy ballads like "That's Why I Pray" wind up having a greater impact than rockers like "Party Like Cowboys," a situation not helped by the great preponderance of tunes desperate to create a good time that never comes. So, instead of being a triumphantly silly return, Hillbilly Jedi merely raises one question: weren't Big & Rich better off following their own paths?

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