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Hailing from St. Louis, Earl makes music that sits at the crossroads where Southern and Midwestern rock intersect with punk and country. They immediately establish their muscular, rootsy sound on their rousing leadoff track, "Long, Long Time," which kicks off with a lickety-split drumstick count-off, a roar of guitar, a harmonica wail, and vocalist Jimmy Kennedy's twangy howl. The song also introduces the disc's main lyrical topics of messed-up lives resulting in misadventure, misery, inebriation, and, occasionally, insight. Although they don't explore particularly new lyrical territory, the band has a sharp way of describing sketchy characters -- from Ellie, who "sits on the sidewalk/And wonders where it ends" to the hapless dealer whose "friends" have "got somewhere to be/someone cooler to see." The album builds nicely, and quickly, to its highpoint: the dynamic one-two punch of "Big Shot" and "Abigail." The former is a terrific revved-up country shuffle while the latter's a flat-out rocker. Together they showcase guitarist Dan Niewoehner's energetic playing and Kennedy's colorful vocals. The momentum slips slightly midway through on a couple of ordinary rockers ("The Lie" and "Highway Song") and then the disc shifts emphasis to slower tunes on its second half. But even with their ballads, the band projects a ruggedness that gives the music a forceful presence. The impassioned "New Reality," a heartland power ballad with a '60s-style folk-rock jam twist, resembles what the Guess Who might have sounded like if they had come from San Francisco, while Kennedy's raspy, soulful singing fuels the stirring "Pusher's Blues." For a band with an all-too-plain name (Earl) and album title (Used), this Missouri quartet has devised a robust country-fried rock sound that gives them a step up on the other, more ordinary sounding, outfits toiling in roadhouses across America.

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