Lovers Lane
In The Flesh

Down in the country

| May 15, 2012

As with any genre, many aren’t shy about their opinions of what country music should be. Admittedly, we’re glad it’s not all about heartache and crops drying up and tears in beer: Jason Boland & The Stragglers, however, like to keep things serious. Also in town: Rocky Votolato and Here We Go Magic.

But what makes Rancho Alto an unqualified success is its refusal to preach and that it doesn’t make concessions to recording methods that fabricate grit. In that sense, Jason Boland & The Stragglers are almost better than Drive-By Truckers in selling tales of scraping out a living, moral gray areas, and brutal luck. “Down Here In The Hole” depicts a suck-ass job where you never see the sun; a poisonous relationship becomes routine in “Obsessed”; and, in the harrowing “False Accuser’s Lament,” a poor farmer agrees to go along with the prosecution’s story only to see the gallows every night in his sleep. The Stragglers never over-dramatize Boland’s vignettes, hewing closely to traditional country templates and letting the direct words do the work. (Friday@Joe’s with Chris Knight.)

Rocky Votolato‘s Television Of Saints (Undertow) grows into a family affair, though his unshakable romantic issues remain solely his. Presented in relatively unadorned singer/songwriter tones, Votolato’s problems get reflected back at him in the dreariest details of modern life: stoplights, dead leaves, brick houses along the highway, a perpetually powered TV, etc. The pain of divorce paralyzes “Start Over,” while in “Sunlight” he edges over the lines of mental collapse. In short, Votolato and Boland need to go bowling. (Thursday@Schubas with Kevin Long.)

No established artist says, “I’ve never heard of this producer or anything they’ve done, but I’ll hire them anyway.” It’s certain that Luke Temple liked something Nigel Godrich did (probably for Radiohead) before approaching him to helm Here We Go Magic‘s A Different Ship (Secretly Canadian), the trick was to not give fans or critics incentive to believe that it was because he wanted to sound like one of Godrich’s clients. Mission failed on “Alone But Moving,” where Temple’s cracking falsetto recalls a certain you-know-who. What’s funny, however, is how nothing you’d credit to Godrich sounds identical to Radiohead. Here We Go Magic move somewhat antiseptically (or unassertively) through the album, preferring gauzy textures and insularity as if they couldn’t have gotten there on their own. (Thursday@Empty Bottle with Dolphins.)

— Steve Forstneger

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