Two Dollar Pistols

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On this live album, the Two Dollar Pistols kick off their set with the old George Jones "tears & beer" tune "Heartaches and Hangovers," which not only nicely sets up their musical themes, but also firmly establishes the sound they're shooting for: hard-edged, traditional honky tonk. While their music is a step back into country music's past, this North Carolina band avoids the traps of studious revivalists and kitschy retro country groups. They play with a vital spiritedness that injects their sincerity with some playfulness. With his robust, twangy vocals, John Howie, Jr. would have sounded natural on the same stage alongside Jones, Merle Haggard, or Ernest Tubb. Similarly, his original songs, like "Me, Myself & Wine" and "Bring the Heartache," contain the elements -- hooks, heartbreak, and some clever wordplay -- found in classic honky tonk tunes. In fact, it's hard to differentiate the originals from old school tunes "A Wound Time Can't Erase" and "Wine Me Up" made famous by Stonewall Jackson and Faron Young, respectively. Also, helping matters are the strong performances by the other band members. Lead guitarist Steve Howell, pedal steel player John Neff, and fiddler Jon Kemppainen, in particular, bring an authentic honky tonk feel to the music. This live recording provides all the "dim light, thick smoke, and loud, loud music" (although the group doesn't do that Joe Maphis classic) that you'd want to hear in a honky tonk band.

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