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Mark Erelli

Hillbilly Pilgrim – 2004 (Signature Sounds)

Reviewed by John Lupton

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CDs by Mark Erelli

Generally lumped in among the so-called "singer-songwriter" crowd, Mark Erelli shows off his honky-tonk roots with this collection of 11 songs, most of them originals. It may seem a paradox to say it, but the nifty thing about the production by Erelli and Lorne Entress is that it really doesn't sound like a slick studio effort. Turn the lights off, close your eyes, and you might actually think you're sitting at a stage-side table in a roadhouse on a two-lane somewhere between, say, Austin and Laredo. It's got a "live" feel that's hard to capture without actually doing a live album, and it really adds something here.

Erelli's voice may not be quite as high-proof distilled as Wayne Hancock's, but he does convey a lot of the same kind of hard-core honky-tonk feel as The Train on songs like "Brand New Baby," "Fool No. 1" and "My Best Was Just Not Good Enough (For You)." Erin McKeown's guest duet vocal on "Pretend" is more than worthwhile, but the disc's best effort, may be "A Bend In The River," an ode to the notion that a good hometown is anywhere you find it. Erelli may not be officially "country" in marketing lingo, but he's got a good idea of what it is.