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Outlaw lives up to his name

Atwood's Tavern, Cambridge, Mass., June 26, 2016

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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If you're a country singer, and you use the name Outlaw as your last name, well, you'd better back it up.

Los Angeles-based traditional honky tonker Sam Outlaw set the record straight, though, saying he was "going to confront it head on." He told the crowd of 45 at his Boston-area debut that he took his mom's maiden name at his stage name.

That may make sense, but, nevertheless, Outlaw far more than lived up to his name. He's the real deal - a traditional country singer with lots of pedal steel courtesy of Jeremy Long (he doubled on twangy guitar and excelled at both), harmonies with Molly Parden and country beats. The South Dakota native even wore a hat (not quite a Stetson, but close enough, and he did abandon it a chunk of the way through his 72-minute, no encore set) as a further nod to country traditionalism.

Three years ago, Outlaw was doing advertising as his day job and fortunately gave that up. With his excellent "Angeleno" debut out last year under the production of Ry and Joachim Cooder, Outlaw has gained traction as an indie artist.

The disc has a Tex-Mex, SoCal country vibe to it, but in concert, Outlaw was more of a straight-ahead country traditionalist with songs like "Who Do You Think You Are," "Ghost Town" and "Jesus Take the Wheel (And Drive Me to the Bar)."

Outlaw has a warm sounding voice just as good on the ballads ("Country Love Song," done nicely with Parden) as the uptempo cuts.

Outlaw came straight out of Brooklyn where he did four-hour sets on the previous two nights for free playing only covers. Apparently, he did not tire of covers either as he turned in a most welcome version of Alan Jackson's "Livin' on Love." Fairly faithful to the original, Outlaw made the emotion of the song about an aging couple come to the fore.

Outlaw has an engaging presence, perhaps made easier by the intimacy of the room. He had a good sense of humor, dedicating one song to his wife along with his girlfriend (he was kidding about the latter for the record and just became a father about eight weeks ago).

Outlaw was also appreciative for folks coming out. The club was far from packed, but Outlaw said he had wondered if anyone would show up. He needn't have been concerned because based on what's dominating country music today, Outlaw more than lives up to his name.