This Tennessee quartet began as a way for DIY punk kids Brian Venable and Ben Nichols to piss off their peers by playing country music. But with its third album, That Much Further West, recorded in the wake of Venable's departure, the band continues to distance itself from its early trad-country start, moving into the ragged alt-country-rock territory occupied by Slobberbone and Drive By Truckers.
Nichols's raspy, rustic Southern drawl has a wounded gravity perfect for his lovelorn musings ("Sad and Lonely," "Ain't So Lonely"), which reach their apogee on the magnificent, rattling Bakersfield C&W rave-up "Tears Don't Matter Much," a song of bright-lights longing in which he confesses to being "just another Southern boy who dreams of nights in N.Y.C."
Opening with a muscular "Iron Man"-style riff, Nichols admits on "Hate and Jealousy" to having enough to "keep me warm at night," yet worries, "I don't want it to burn me up." This rootsy pride recalls Springsteen's blue-collar tales and finds its finest expression on the haunting, backwoodsy "Joining the Army," where Nichols sings: "I just wanted to make my grandfather proud . . . me singing these songs don't compare to what he did over there, need to prove I can carry my share."
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