Various Artists, Not So Quiet on the Country Western Front
Taken as a whole, country music is known for being the most utterly depressing of all music types. Not surprisingly, the Not So Quiet on the Country Western Front compilation showcases an array of country-ish songs whose subjects run the gamut from crying for the Lord to dying for a drink.
Perfectly embracing the genre stereotype, the first track, “Lonely Days and Whiskey Nights,” sets the tone of the album by oozing regret and lamenting the passing days, all over a dragging pedal steel. (Even the band’s name, Lenny and the Piss Poor Boys, reeks of self-pity.) From there, most of the songs fall into a middle ground of being somewhat enjoyable but easily forgettable. In addition, there are a couple of serious sore thumbs: the Enablers’ “Dear Beer,” and the especially cringe-inducing “17 years,” by Armchair Martian, both belong on a future dollar bin punk anthology.
The more successful tracks are noticeably minimal. Whether through bare-bones instrumentation (Dustin Kensrue’s “Consider the Ravens”), hushed vocal harmonies (Limbeck’s “Reading the Street Signs” and Rocky Votolato’s “White Daisy Passing”), or a continuous plucking of strings (Tom Waits’ “Bottom of the World”), they are able to evoke a country-worthy melancholy that doesn’t come off as overly repetitive or too drawn out.
But at the risk of sounding biased towards the ladies, it’s the two songs with female lead vocals that seem to be the clear standouts. The swelling strings and echoing guitars on “Star Witness” are a flawless backdrop for Neko Case’s equally flawless vocals, and the singing of Marie Litton in Ghost Buffalo’s cover of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” finds a seductive tenderness that could persuade even the most rigid of heads to sway. Overall, Not So Quiet is not so bad, held back by a general predictability, but not without some genuine charm shining through.