The road has been kind to Connor Christian & Southern Gothic. After the release of 2009's 90 Proof Lullabies, they toured for a few years. They played roadhouses and clubs, opening for everyone from Tim McGraw to ZZ Top, and traveled globally. Along the way, they hired the exceptionally talented Siberian violinist, er, fiddler, Elena Martin, making CCSG a quintet. They learned to write better songs, and to ignore Nashville's "conventional" wisdom. Somewhere along the line, they also learned how to produce records -- there isn't a trace of the super-compressed area rock slop -- or Auto-Tune -- that seems to permeate contemporary country on the 2010s. (Listeners seem to like it: New Hometown entered the Billboard country chart's Top Five less than a month after release). CCSG produced the record themselves. Containing a whopping 18 songs, this set runs the style gamut. There's the Cajun-inflected first single and opening cut "Sheets Down" with rippling accordion, fiddle, mandolin work, and its tale of sweet hedonism. Woody Guthrie's "Bound for Glory" is given a righteous Gothic country-gospel treatment with stunning fiddle by Martin. "Stella Please" contains a melody that wouldn't have been out of place on Elton John's Tumbleweed Connection -- even if the song's lyrics don't add up to Bernie Taupin's, they're very good -- and the addition of a reedy horn section gives it a live feel. The collision of blues, gospel, and rock in "When I'm Gone" is drenched in lust, loneliness, and bitterness. The seamless four-part harmony and organic meld of guitars, mandolins, fiddles, and natural-sounding drums don't hurt, either. That angry sense of rejection is countered in the very next track by the sweet ache in Christian's vocal in the back porch love song "(She's) My Salvation." One can hear CCSG channeling Marshall Tucker and mid-'70s Bob Seger in the title track -- and that's a compliment. (Kid Rock might try, but he can't write, or sing, like this.) The rocker "Hotel Bar" is garagey country-rock done right, while set-closer "Watch Me Run" is the rocking tune the Eagles wish they could still write. The set isn't perfect. "That 'Ol Jukebox" name drops a little too much Willie and Waylon, and its honky tonk feels a bit forced; it also might have been better served with some editing -- did "November Rain" really need to be nearly nine minutes? But these are very small complaints. New Hometown is one hell of a sophomore effort. It shows not only ambition, but vision and exponential growth.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek