"This is BR5-49"
After years of butting its head against staunch neo-country trends, "This is BR5-49" may be the record that finally propels Nashville's best band into the national spotlight. Produced by Mike Poole and Paul Worley (who's tweaked the knobs for a whole laundry list of country legends including Pam Tillis, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris and Dixie Chicks), the effort perfectly blends BR5-49's predilection for old-school pickin' and grinnin' with the best aspects of new country, never once resorting to corn-pone gimmickry or power ballads. "Too Lazy to Work, Too Nervous to Steal" kicks the album off in high style, with singer/guitarist Chuck Mead's wry sense of humor leading the song's rip-snorting (but never boot-scootin') boogie. Mead's keening vocals mix perfectly with BR5's other singer/guitarist, Gary Bennett, and the pair's trademark nasal harmonies are fully intact throughout "This is," reaching an apex of sorts on a twangy, down-home remake of The Everly Brothers' "The Price of Love." After Mead and Bennett's harmonious dichotomy, BR5's secret weapon is undoubtedly multi-instrumentalist Don Herron who puts in jaw-dropping performances on nearly every cut, backed by the skin-tight rhythms of drummer Shaw Wilson and bassist Jay McDowell. Rockpile's 1980 hot-stepper "Play That Fast Thing (One More Time)" is dusted off and given a fresh coat of sonic paint as is a gorgeous tear-in-my-beer take on "A Little Good News" (made famous by none other than Anne Murray). Both numbers manage to add something to the originals, making the covers sound like they were tailor-written for the band. Though all 11 tracks on "This is" have standout moments, a couple suffer in comparison to their fiery counterparts. Bennett's "The Game" and "Different Drum" get dragged down by their own weight and lyrics that fail to invoke much in the way of imagery. Still, BR5-49 has never sounded more inspired or been produced with such care, a hint that Southern music-industry bigwigs are finally catching on. With the Nashville music scene embracing its roots after years of neglect, one can only hope that country music fans will eventually take notice of the big backyard beat show that's been rocking the block for nearly a decade.
"Sweet Emotion/Songs of Aerosmith"
If there's one thing I can't stand more than any post-"Draw the Line" album by Aerosmith, it's the never-interesting but ever-ubiquitous "tribute" album, where random artists convene to "reinterpret" (aka rape, plunder and pillage) the catalog of a well-known act. Thus, it's difficult not to invoke Murphy's Law when listening to "Sweet Emotion," which brings these two nausea-encouraging concepts together for an hour-long journey into the depths of musical hell. If you thought songs like "Cryin'" and "Pink" were contemptible the first time around, you ain't heard nothin' yet. If you like many are a fan of Aerosmith's early efforts, just wait 'til you get a load of Lou Gramm's run through a karaoke-ready version of "Back in the Saddle." Unfortunately, the Foreigner frontman's blustery blues posturing is one of the disc's better moments, sounding practically genius next to unintentionally hilarious numbers like Crystal Taliefero's knee-slapping take on "Dude (Looks Like a Lady)." Though a few genuine blues masters (Pinetop Perkins, Sugar Blue, Otis Clay) show up on this cash-cow collection of musical tripe, it's obvious they're just on board for a quick payday. Making matters worse is the tepid backing band, featured on virtually every number, which quickly makes this already commonplace collection even more indistinguishable. Perhaps that's why David "Honeyboy" Edwards' unaccompanied acoustic rendition of "Train Kept a Rollin'" stands out among the wolf pack of rehashed blues dreck. Of course, opting for a song that wasn't penned by Steven Tyler and Joe Perry probably didn't hurt either. In the end, the lone redeeming quality of this snooze-worthy assortment is that it provides one more nail to drive into Aerosmith's musical coffin. Let's pray for a painless and swift death.