Jarrod Birmingham

Stages

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Jarrod Birmingham is the real thing in a country music scene filled with poseurs, "real" country in the same way that, say, Merle Haggard and Dwight Yoakam are but Garth Brooks never really was. He even namechecks his idols (Haggard, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, etc.) in the opening track, "Best I Can," but he's wise not to put himself on their level. A former professional bull rider from the Texas gulf coast, Birmingham favors hell-raising honky tonk with a rock edge over pop-friendly balladry. This is definitely a good thing, although Birmingham protests a bit too much; besides the opener, he delivers "Guilty," a somewhat defensive song about his desire to be "a honky tonk singer in a honky tonk band," and later, "If That Ain't Country" rings yet another set of changes on the theme. Thing is, the rest of Stages obviates any need for Birmingham to fret about what people think of his music or his intentions, because pedal steel-enhanced honky tonk weepers like "Whiskey and Lies" and good old-fashioned two-step rave-ups like "Cheap Wine" make a stronger case for Birmingham's artistic choices.

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