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Roots Renegades 

A trio of alternative releases from the soundscape of the new West

click to enlarge cowboy nation
  • cowboy nation

A Journey Out of Time
Cowboy Nation
Shanachie/Western Jubilee

One of your more enigmatic sibling duos has to be the brothers Kinman; whether behind or ahead, they always record in styles considerably out of their time.

Anticipating the era of hard-core punk, Chip and Tony Kinman first formed the L.A. punk band, the Dils, in the late '70s. Next we found them fronting Rank and File, a band which could be considered to have invented the style known as cowpunk. Blackbird, their next recording project, was a modern wall-of-sound fuzz-pop band, the type popularized by such groups as My Bloody Valentine.

Their latest project, Cowboy Nation, proves -- to borrow a famous line -- that the Kinmans can play both kinds of music: country and western. A Journey Out of Time is a loving and lovely tribute to prairie music. Backed only by an occasional drummer, this is minimalist folk, slow and gentle. The boys' harmonies have never been more sublime. Chip plays an acoustic guitar, with Tony on, of course, bass (between his instrument and his voice, the towering Tony proves himself still one of the bassist people around). There is nothing here that could not be played around a campfire.

The first song on the CD, "Back in the Saddle Again," is the only cover here, but one appropriate both stylistically and as a message from Chip and Tony to their listeners, a musical throwing down of the glove. The songs that follow are simultaneously mournful and joyful, reverent and Kinmanesque, and become somewhat irresistible upon repeated listening.

Highlights of the CD include "Way To Go," featuring some lovely strumming by Chip, and "Cowboys' Vision" in which the harmonies are heart-shattering. Aside from a few ki-yi yippy yippies, the songs provide very easy listening, atmospherically closer to the Cowboy Junkies than Roy Rogers. Once again, the Kinmans leave us, delightedly, unable to categorize them.

-- Michael Salkind

click to enlarge Marty Jones and the Pork Boilin Poor Boys
  • Marty Jones and the Pork Boilin Poor Boys

Marty Jones and the Pork Boilin' Poor Boys
Marty Jones and the Pork Boilin' Poor Boys
Self-release

Marty Jones, a music critic from Denver, expresses his insatiable love for American music with his one-string washtub bass, and his Pork Boilin' Poor Boys (whatever that means). His shows are rollicking and entertaining, and we all in the Springs (that's southern Denver to you) will have the opportunity to see one of these joyous spectacles Friday at the Colorado Music Hall.

If the Ramones were from Norfolk, Va. (Marty's old stomping grounds), and grew up listening to George Jones, they might be Marty Jones. Jones comes off as an acoustic Southern Culture on the Skids. He and his geezers just love to play fun and funny drinking ditties (they are not sponsored by MADD), speedily howling like the devil's on their tails. Jones's songs are gospel-tinged hillbilly rave-ups, wacky and barely controlled.

Jones's self-titled CD from last year is strong throughout, with few exceptions ("Queen of the Road" skirts Weird Al territory, while a countrified take on Zep's "Whole Lotta Love" loses its novelty value, well, as quickly as most novelty songs). Where these guys soar is on stage. It is well worth catching them simply for the pleasure of watching Jones play actual notes with his washtub bass. The Poor Boys are a blast as well.

-- Michael Salkind

click to enlarge Useful Music
  • Useful Music

Useful Music
The Josh Joplin Group
Artemis Records

The first thing that hits you about Josh Joplin is his voice. Sounding like a cross between Richard Butler of the Psychedelic Furs and Michael Stipe of R.E.M., Joplin's reedy tone provides a compelling presence in and of itself.

Joplin fuses a mixture of sources in his musical identity, ranging from D.C. hardcore to Pete Seeger, and lists folkies like Woody Guthrie, Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan among his major influences, along with the pop music of the Smiths and the punk of the Clash and Minor Threat.

Joplin's at his best when he creates a well-balanced blend between these folk and rock influences. On first-rate songs like "Here I Am," "Matter" and "Camera One," the melodies have a decidedly arid Midwestern feel. But rather than use simple acoustic accompaniment, Joplin and his bandmates give the songs a rocking, sure-footed feel with plugged-in instrumental backing that is both lean and punchy.

Joplin does a nice job of varying his sound with several change-of-pace tunes. "Who's Afraid Of Thomas Wolfe?" builds its sound around a stark piano melody and Joplin's urgent vocal. The chiming tones of "Trailways" bring a poppier, early R.E.M.-ish dimension to Joplin's sound.

"Phil Ochs," Joplin's tribute to the late folk singer, has a touch of elegance within its solo piano sound. The CD-closing alternate version of "I've Changed" boasts a lush, string-laden arrangement that works quite well. On the latter, Joplin sings "I wanted perfection/From every song I've ever sung." Useful Music doesn't achieve that goal, but it's still an auspicious beginning for this Atlanta-based band.

--Alan Sculley

  • A trio of alternative releases from the soundscape of the new West

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