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Nelda Sisk and the Sisko Kids

Strangers In Paradise – 2000 (HighHorse)

Reviewed by Jon Weisberger

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CDs by Nelda Sisk and the Sisko Kids

It's fashionable these days to knock Music Row for the inferiority of its product, and much of the criticism is justified. Yet, beyond the big time country music industry Nashville has many talented singers, songwriters and pickers who don't so much oppose the mainstream as simply ignore it - or, perhaps more accurately, coexist with it.

Case in point: Nelda Sisk. A relatively recent Nashville arrival, Sisk has a sturdy, straightforward alto voice and a strong collection of songs, most of them written with her husband George. With the help of producer/guitarist Tim Thompson, Sisk makes an impressive debut, thanks in part to the outstanding backing provided by legendary steel guitar player Doug Jernigan and a well-chosen group of skilled, sympathetic Nashville pickers. The sound is pleasantly varied, from the country-rock of the solid album opener, "Horse Thieves and Moonshiners" through the tasty r&b groove of the autobiographical "Southern Girl" to the semi-bluegrass of the closing "Travelin' Light and Drivin' Fast" and is polished enough that it wouldn't sound out of place on a mildly adventurous country radio station.

Not all songs work equally well, and where they're weak, it's generally in the lyrics. The title track, a depiction of the contrast between the opulence of a Mexican tourist resort and the poverty of the people who work there, relies too much on formulas, and the rockabilly-flavored "Women's Magazines" isn't quite clever enough to keep a listener's interest over time. Still, these misses are more than made up for by tight song construction, well-crafted arrangements and Sisk's persuasive singing.