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Various Artists

Insurgent Country Volume 3 Nashville: The Other Side of the Alley – 1996 (Bloodshot)

Reviewed by Bill Sacks

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The "insurgent" tag seems to have taken on some strange meanings in the past two years: for some, it is a license to continue producing the "let's get drunk and have us a time" records which the paragons of "family values" in the Nashville establishment now frown upon; for others, it isan apologia for emulating rock bands as varied as the Rolling Stones or Uncle Tupelo with whatever degree of imaginative poverty.

Some have even heard, above the din it banners, a clarion call to the sounds and songstructures of the earliest country music recordings.

This CD is an attempt to document the work of the best players in and around the commercially ignored "Lower Broadway" club scene in Music City and contains bits of all the aforementioned dabblings (so did both of Bloodshot's earlier compilations), as well as a few snippets of actual genius.

With "Your Red Wagon," Paul Burch has pulled off the unlikely task of writing a new songworthy of the Carter Family; his band are revivalists in the best sense of the word. It's good to know that someone other than Emmylou Harris or Jimmie Dale Gilmore is up to the job.

Likewise, Greg Garing's "Safe Within Your Arms" evokes the tone of a classic Owen Bradley session with a song whose emotional power transcends all nostalgia.

R.B. Morris's "Roy" is a rare find in that it lays out a fairly involved character profile while also succeeding as music (borrowing from Guthrie's "Deportee" helps).

Tom House, whose overburdened music/poetry business opens the disc, also contributes a dark solo acoustic performance of his song "Cole Durhew." With it, he commits what used to be a singer-songwriter's one irredeemable sin: evoking Dylan's best work with a good measure of individual personality.

And then there is Hayseed, whose contribution is not the best on this disc, but may be the most significant. While many other new groups play up the satiric "cornball" angle ad nauseam, here we have a band which comes on with a sense of purpose in its humor: "God-Shaped Hole" is one of the smartest slaps at American fundamentalism and its malcontents yet heard. It is one of the rare country tunes which really does seem to have something in common with the best intentions of punk rock; this, while definitely being hillbilly music in every structural and instrumental sense.

The cynic suspects that a tune like this one will prove to be the zenith of the "insurgent" movement; if that proves not to be the case, it will be because groups from Chicago to Nashville awaken to the possibility that their talents for humor can be put to better ends than mere kitsch.