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J Byrd Hosch & the Kountry Kays

Cat O' Nine Tails – 1999 (Dirty Bird)

Reviewed by Eli Messinger

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CDs by J Byrd Hosch & the Kountry Kays

San Francisco's Kountry Kunts may have toned down their name and left out a few of their bawdier tunes, but the quality of their debut is uncompromised. Lead singer/songwriter J Byrd Hosch turned a fortuitous business trip from Texas to the Bay Area into a new life, and took full advantage of her second chance. Returning to music after a 20-year hiatus, Hosch sports the fervor of someone who makes music as an end in itself and the pen of a writer with real life experiences to draw upon.

While her songs cover many of country's standard bases (drinkin', fightin' and honky tonkin'), the key to her writing is its transparency. When she sings of first loves, broken hearts and family matters (neatly combined with drinkin' and dyin' on "Daddy's Dead"), it's as if a friend is telling you a story first-hand. When she daydreams on "I Wish I Was a Bird" (borrowing a melodic line from "I Don't Believe I'll Fall in Love Today") it's easy to fly away with her, and when she revs up the hot-rod Lincoln beat of "Smokin'" the burnt rubber is palpable.

The latest version of the Kays features Hosch and Marya Martini on vocals, twangy lead guitar from Adam Hancock and a swinging rhythm section of Andrew Bacon and Alex Warmer. Guests Doug Adams on fiddle and harmonica and Robert Powell on steel round out the fun. (Dirty Bird, 2130 Market St., #4, San Francisco, CA 94114, 415-431-5377)