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Chris Richards

Tumblers & Grit – 2004 (Lake Effect)

Reviewed by Brian Baker

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CDs by Chris Richards

For a guy who grew up in the classic rock expanse of Sheboygan, Wisc. and whose only exposure to country was tagging after his grandmother to local taverns and absorbing the jukebox, Chris Richards has taken his meager influences and turned them into something truly spectacular.

After an eye-opening gig in the Atlantic Records advertising department convinced Richards to do things on his own, he fashioned his 2001 debut, "Jam the Breeze," with help from Dave Alvin collaborator Rick Shea and a book on songwriting by Tom T. Hall. For his sophomore album, Richards has ventured further into old school country with a perfect dash of rootsy pop and twangy folk for a warm and engaging hybrid of all three. Iconic/anarchic production genius R.S. Field arranges the elements with an ear toward country's classic glitzless era while spooning Richards' warm caramel baritone tastefully over it all. But it would be little more than window dressing without Richards' compelling story songs from the John Prine wistfulness of "The Ballad of the Analog Kid" to the Rodney Crowell twang of "To Sing the Blues" to the Dwight Yoakam lope of "Hard Livin'."

Chris Richards may never get this on country radio but he's come up with an album custom made for their playlist.