This Is BR549

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Nashville upstarts BR5-49 have become known for their hybrid of old-fashioned Western swing, slick country pop, and punk-infused honky tonk, however, on their fourth release, This Is BR5-49, they start by straying closer to the young country side of the industry. The first half of the album seems to lag behind the beat, not in a lazy, porch-sittin' manner, but in a "prime for a slick CMT video" manner. The first single, "Too Lazy to Work, Too Nervous to Steal," chugs along passionlessly. Similarly, the distortion-laden and tremolo-heavy cover of the Everly Brothers' "The Price of Love" might work well in concert with some live energy behind it, but on CD it lumps along, in desperate need of a carrot held in front of the horse. The incorporation of pop culture references have worked in the band's favor on their previous albums ("Little Ramona," "Bettie Bettie"), but their social and political commentaries on "Psychic Lady" and "A Little Good News" would get 'em thrown offstage at both Gilley's and CBGB; not because their topics are controversial, but because they are boring. About midway through the album, starting with the Gary Bennett-penned "While You Were Gone" (the record's best cut), they start cookin'. Here, the record steps into the groove and focuses on their familiar pedal steel up-tempo Swing as opposed to the slicker sound dominating the first half. The barn dance toe-tapper "Fool of the Century" would do Bob Wills proud, and the upright bass-led "Look Me Up" is in line with the truly inspired stuff they recorded in their days at Robert's Western Wear. As unfortunate as the first half is, the flip side hides some true gems, making the more cynical country fans wonder if side A was engineered by Nashville suits and side B is more along the band's original vision. Either way, the album is a toss-up, with its share of unfortunate cuts and real winners.

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