A couple years ago, Dan Baird, who was propelled to rock fame singing "Keep Your Hands to Yourself" with the Georgia Satellites in 1986, remarked that if the Satellites had come around 20 years later, they would have a been a country music act.
Though I am not sure the polished Nashville side of country would have embraced the boys from Atlanta, they certainly wouldn't be cracking any of today's narrow classic rock radio formats either.
Consequently, bands who may have fit squarely into rock and roll 20 or 30 years ago now turn to country. Flynnville Train is a good example of the change. Brothers Brian and Brent Flynn sprang out of Middletown, Indiana and have released their band's second album, Redemption, a follow-up to 2007's self-titled debut album, which had two tunes push into the Country Music Top 50.
The new release is a record filled with small town, blue collar, down-and-out dreamers and realists. Though the new record has touches of Skynyrd snarling guitars and phrasing, the band is more akin to the Kentucky Headhunters (who wrote the album's "The One You Love") or Montgomery Gentry. Flynnville Train bangs around a few styles, never straying far from country vocals, power-chord guitars and brotherly harmonies.
A tremolo guitar and the story of the band's very early days make "On Our Way" a highlight, as is "Preachin' to the Choir", the first single, with echoes of Waylon Jennings' guitar tone in the intro. An ode to Nashville's Tootsie's Orchid Lounge on "33 Steps" is a nicely crafted piece of songwriting.
It's a record that succeeds when the band lets a tune wander ever so slightly, lending a couple extra bars to a solo or yell or two from the singer. Too many times, the constraints of shiny radio polish mean the songs on Redemption are kept under control. The vocals stay up in the mix and the music slightly lower; they needed to wade in together and fight it out.
Ironically, Dan Baird is a guest on the album, lending yelping lead vocals and his Fender Telecaster crunch to "Alright", one of the most engaging - and fun - tracks on the album. There's a looseness to the playing and a smile you can hear.
Cliche' lyrics, however, drag down "Turn Left", a NASCAR commercial. "Scratch Me Where I'm Itchin'" suffers from some sophomoric posing, though can be commended for nicking a line from Kenny Rogers' "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In").
And who could have guessed the album would end on a cover of America's "Sandman"?
It's a good, not great, album, and allows the group to straddle a line between Hank Jr. "I'll kick your ass" attitude and what country radio is playing in 2010. Redemption sounds like Nashville country record, with enough of the band's soul trickling into the music to save it.
Spending nearly a decade playing the clubs certainly seasoned the band, and as a live act, they can supply a recklessness to their music that is harder to harness in the studio. Ultimately, Redemption may be an album good enough to keep them on the corporate country ladder.