The Dixons,
Still Your Fool
(Cow Island, 2008)

Stylistically, the Dixons, who keep the flame of pure honkytonk burning out of their home base in Brooklyn, split the difference between Ernest Tubb's Texas Troubadours and Buck Owens's Buckaroos. Harder-driving than the Troubadours, less rock 'n' roll than the Buckaroos, they bring sufficient originality to the project to keep things interesting.

The analogy is a well-toned traditional bluegrass band that reminds listeners why they were drawn to Bill Monroe and the Stanley Brothers but drops its own distinctive accent into a familiar language.

It helps that lead vocalist and songwriter Jeffrey "Jeffro" Mowrer, who plays acoustic rhythm guitar, is pretty good at what he does. He is an assured songwriter, and he sings these anthems of romantic anguish with appropriate conviction in phrasing that manages at once to sound comfortingly smooth and sharply edged. The other Dixons are Paul Greenhaw (drums), Gerald Menke (pedal steel), Joey Covington (upright bass) and Chris Hartway (Fender Telecaster). Guest Luke Cissel adds some fiddle and piano. They're all good, and besides knowing their technical chops, I'd bet that most or all know everything worth knowing about the history of country music.

Of the three covers, the most striking -- arguably, the finest cut of all -- is a rearranged, slowed-down version of Tubb's classic "Thanks a Lot," which is on anybody's list of greatest country songs of all time. The original is sung in the voice of a man who is jeering just to keep from crying, but in this newly imagined reading, the poor guy is jeered out, and there's nothing left to stem the tears. It hits hard with the sort of raw emotional truth that once upon a time country music delivered almost routinely.

review by
Jerome Clark

29 November 2008

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