BR549 is back for more roots rockin'

By Barry Gilbert
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

February 7, 2006
'Dog Days'
Grade: B+

Chuck Mead and Don Herron are back with yet another retooled edition of BR549, but the changes haven't affected the band's reliably rootsy sound.

Guitarist Chris Scruggs, who gave last year's "Tangled in the Pines" a harder kick, and bassist Geoff Firebaugh have departed, leaving founders Mead and Herron handling the guitars with drummer Shaw Wilson and new bassist Mark Miller.

Rock 'n' roll, country, swing, blues and jazz coexist quite nicely, thanks to producer John Keane (Uncle Tupelo, Bottle Rockets, REM), and multi-instrumentalist Herron is again the band's MVP with standout work on pedal steel guitar, keyboards and, especially, fiddle and banjo.

That percolating banjo carries the first track "Poison," a bluegrass-tinged plea to "get thee out of me," and returns with fiddle for "Cajun Persuasion." These two songs are examples of a somewhat wider range of sounds on "Dog Days."

"The Devil & Me" ("we're lookin' for trouble") borrows heavily from the Sun Records era, with Mead channeling both Elvis Presley and Charlie Rich, and the still marvelous Jordanaires providing their unmistakable backup vocals.

"Bottom of Priority," marked by Herron's fiddle, tackles American Indian issues, and the Mead-Guy Clark co-written "Lower Broad Street Blues" portrays a part of Nashville both men know well.

The band's two covers this time out are both solid: "After the Hurricane," a Tim Carroll song that evokes Katrina but predates that tragedy by years; and Dave Edmunds' music-biz lament "A-1 on the Jukebox" ("but nowhere on the charts"), a song that could have been written about a band like BR549.

The disc closes in wry fashion with "Let Jesus Make You Breakfast" -- and fashion is the operative word, because this Jesus is manning the kitchen "with his fresh white shell toes on" -- Adidas Superstar shoes.