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Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys

Empty House – 2005 (Bloodshot)

Reviewed by T.J. Simon

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CDs by Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys

In the context of Rex Hobart, the "misery" moniker should not be taken lightly. The Kansas City country crooner doesn't just sing about misery on his new album, he seems to own it.

In the tradition of classic heartbreak music perfected by predecessors including Merle Haggard, Johnny Paycheck and Buck Owens, Hobart delivers 11 tear-in-your-beer tales of mournful loneliness on his fourth album. The ballad-heavy, no-frills disc opens with its best track, "The Good Ain't Gone," which finds the singer walking out of what he believed to be a dead relationship over classic Bakersfield instrumentation. The comparatively upbeat "I Just Lost My Mind" punctuates Hobart's sharp vocals with the sound of a blistering Telecaster and tightly wound harmonica arrangements.

Throughout, Hobart and his band deliver tight performances without displaying a moment of flash or Nashville glitz. He is a traditionalist who has never resorted to the costumed retro-act trap, and he has rewarded his fans by keeping the focus on quality songwriting, most recently on tracks including "Let's Leave Me" and "Black Iron Bridge." "Empty House" isn't particularly groundbreaking, but there's not a bad song on the disc, either. In short, misery never sounded this good.