It would be easy to dismiss The Boxmasters as yet another well-established actor (Billy Bob Thornton) trying to meld his own popularity in that realm with the high profile world of contemporary country music. But one listen to last year's debut, self-titled release and then a second to "Modbilly" will convince anyone that this group isn't reaching for anything that comes easy.
The music that comes from Modbilly isn't like anything on today's country radio, and it's also really unlike anything that been heard on mainstream country radio in 30 years. This is akin to the country that was at the root of the genre's origins. Thornton and his bandmates, J.D. Andrew (bass) and Mike Butler (electric guitars), are serious about the music and about the group being considered nothing less than a long-term endeavor.
At their best, The Boxmasters prove why this traditional country two-CD package still has legs and is seen as the authentic country music. Thornton's voice fits well on some songs and is strained on others. Andrew and Butler can really play. Both get some moments to shine, even on songs that rarely go beyond 3:30. The first CD consists of songs penned by the group. The best are Turn It Over, Two Weeks Notice and That's Why Tammy Has My Car. The second has far more highs and unfortunately more lows as the band tries to make the hits of others fit into its mold. Roger Miller's Half A Mind, Del Reeves' A Dime at a Time and The Turtles' (you read it right) Elenore are all great takes on classics from three different genres. But the Rolling Stones' As Tears Go By and Glen Campbell's Gentle on My Mind are pedestrian at best.
With 24 songs from which to choose and even with just over a 50 percent success rate, "Modbilly" is certainly an honest attempt to create music that each of these musicians cares about and wants the listener to explore. That's a bit more than can be written about many of today's new releases.