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Johnny Berry and the Outliers

Fegenbush Farm – 2006 (Self-released)

Reviewed by Eli Messinger

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CDs by Johnny Berry and the Outliers

The twangy throwback country of this Louisville band's second album hardly reveals the players' bluegrass roots. Bassist/vocalist Johnny Berry was born in Kentucky, and though he served apprenticeships with both Doyle Lawson and Charlie Sizemore, he's a honky-tonk singer through and through. His baritone resonates with the gravity of Johnny Cash and the wisdom of Waylon Jennings, and his band (including fellow Kentuckian Steve Cooley on guitar) burns with '50s twang and '60s Bakersfield sting.

Berry's originals include galloping Derailers-styled honky-tonk, sorrowful two-steppers and tearful ballads. Together they skip past several decades of mainstreamed country to a time when men futilely tried to drink away their heartache and loneliness. Berry also writes in the outlaw tradition with the philosophical story song "Roanoke on the Run" and sings a letter-perfect cover of Cash's Sun-era "Mean Eyed Cat," complete with tic-tac guitar and rumbling train rhythm. This is intense old school country that's vital rather than retro. (Available from Johnny Berry)