Sawyer Brown

Mission Temple Fireworks Stand

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If the cover depicting Sawyer Brown as a bunch of tough yet well-groomed carnies wasn't an indication that their 2005 effort Mission Temple Fireworks Stand captures a rougher, rowdier version of the veteran country-pop band, the opening title cut confirms it. A galloping bluesy rocker, patterned on a gospel-tent singalong but sounding like pure Southern rock, it's a welcome change from the cautious crossover pop of 2002's Can You Hear Me Now and it's a good indication of what the overriding character of the album is. Throughout much of the rest of the album, Sawyer Brown favor loose, lean, humorous country-rockers, whether it's spiking Steven Curtis Chapman's "Tarzan and Jane" with "ooga-chakas" lifted from Jonathan King's take on B.J. Thomas' "Hooked on a Feeling" or doing a spirited cover of the Georgia Satellites' "Keep Your Hands to Yourself." It's as if the group heard the raunchy sounds of Big & Rich and Gretchen Wilson and decided the way to compete was going for straight-ahead Southern rock. Of course, this is Sawyer Brown, the group that first came to fame on Star Search, so they haven't abandoned their taste for big sentiment, and they have two of their most unbearably mawkish numbers to date here: "With You Daddy," a tale of a father dying from lung cancer, and its flip side, "One Little Heartbeat at a Time," a tale about a newborn baby. These are syrupy, drippy tunes, but they don't slow down the album too much, since most of the record moves along briskly -- the hooks are plentiful, the band sounds tight, and the production is uncluttered, making for their best record in over a decade.

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