After getting dropped by Arista Nashville last summer, the stunningly well-received country rock sextet BR5-49, within moments of its availability, inked a deal with Sony's alt-country imprint Lucky Dog, where it's already working on a new studio album. The smart kids at Sony know when to back a winner. Since the mid-'90s, when it served as the house band at Robert's Western World in Nashville, BR5-49 has built a reputation as one of the hardest-working good-time bands in Music City, satisfying both sides of country's style camps by playing with a reverence for the past and a passion for the future. Like the Squirrel Nut Zippers' swing homage, BR5-49 accomplishes the nearly impossible: writing classic country songs that sound like they belong to someone else and rearranging old songs to make them the band's own. Pretty slick for a group that took its name from a Junior Samples sketch on Hee Haw
. BR5-49's knowledge of country's history is legendary. Back in the Western World days, neo-country starchild John Michael Montgomery strolled in one evening and offered singer-guitarist Chuck Mead $25 for every Hank Williams song he could play. With plenty of material to spare, they stopped after running up a tab for $600. The standard line on BR5-49 has always been that it's a band that sounds good in the studio and great on stage. Half of the band's catalog (1996's debut Live From Robert's
and last year's Coast to Coast
) has been recorded live -- proof that every time it cranks it up in front of an audience, the music's good enough to record and release. It's all just part and parcel of the BR5-49 legend.