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Urban Cowboys 

If it's a Lawless country, why is everyone dancing in a line?

The musical marauders of Lawless have been working saloons from Kent to Cleveland for three years, refining their country-rock concoctions. Two weeks ago, the quartet holed up in the Willoughby Brewing Company for a Sunday night of drinking and line-dancing, soaking the brewery's floorboards with even coats of country, rock, and pop.

Sporting a black cowboy hat and acoustic guitar, singer John Dillon Hardy leads the five-piece through three separate sets on the brewhouse stage. He prods the crowd to promenade with a mix of countrified cover tunes, ranging from Kenny Chesney ("She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy") to the Temptations ("My Girl").

Elderly couples, urban cowgirls, and grizzled barflies pepper the floor, line-dancing in shifting patterns. The smiling Hardy pours himself into each tune, flaunting the good looks and strong vocals reminiscent of Dwight Yoakam's. At his side, guitarist Don McGoun cuts the ballads with a rock edge, launching blistering solos over Hardy's assured vocals. McGoun hammers on his electric guitar and effects pedals, sending forth a raw, rustic racket, as if he's auditioning for the Drive-By Truckers.

The group's country covers bleed into loose jamming and then original material -- a set of seven sugary tunes spiked with whiskey. The molasses love ballad "It's the Trains" swells with lonely pastoral pop charm, acoustic heartbreak, and four-part vocal harmonies. "Long Gone" bucks to a rowdy Tom Petty riff (recalling "Mary Jane's Last Dance"), smothered in country gravy and melodrama.

The rhythm section -- Steve Skrant (guitar), Ray Brown (percussion), and Ernie Arroyo (bass) -- backs Hardy and McGoun with seamless uniformity, occasionally offering lead vocals.

The mixed bag of country-rock gems coaxes line dancers into odd configurations. Lawless repeatedly lures them onto the floor with radio-friendly favorites, then sends them with a home-cooked taste of country rock.

Speaking of Shorts

More by Keith Gribbins


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