Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash

Mile Markers

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While the Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash still haven't summoned up the swagger or the attitude to live up to their name, their third album, Mile Markers, does find them finally living up to the promise of their first two albums, which made this band sound like it had plenty of talent but not much to say. Lead Bastard Mark Stuart (who apparently is the band's only constant these days) has sharpened up his songwriting since 2002's Distance Between, and "Borderline of the Heart" and "California Sky" are both lyrically and musically evocative in a way his earlier work never quite managed, and his vocals conjure up the dry, dusty atmosphere of the Western plains with an easy but honest skill. Stuart also has a solid band onboard for these sessions, featuring the masterful Greg Leisz on steel guitar and Taras Prodaniuk on bass, and the performances cook with a muscular authority. And if this music is more straight country than rock these days, it's honest country that neither plays its influences for laughs or is reaching for a fake sense of roots -- Stuart is maturing into a strong songwriter with plenty of heart and soul, and that's what makes Mile Markers connect where the Bastard Sons' first two albums were near misses. There still ain't no way I'd call this band the Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash, but on Mile Markers they could be the Younger Brothers of Robert Earl Keen, and that's big improvement over where they'd been.

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