By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
By Steve Weinstein
By Araceli Cruz
ELIZABETH MCQUEEN AND THE FIREBRANDS
The Fresh Up Club
No confirmation that the two songs addressed to a former love interest no longer in the band concern Asleep at the Wheeler David Sanger, who produced the thing and who 26-year-old Arkansas transplant to Austin McQueen used to date, but either way, the time changes in "Heaven Sent" hook like something off of a 1979 Nick Lowe or Dave Edmunds LP. The loosely defined FireBrands even call their music "pub rock," which makes the extroverted voice up front either Carlene Carter or Rosanne Cash back when they had new-wave haircuts. "Freight Train" stands in for "My Baby Thinks He's a Train" off Seven Year Ache, then two tracks later comes a hazy driving metaphor written by Rosanne's ex-spouse. Not alt-country: Way too much blues and rhythm; no schoolmarm in the singing despite Lisa Loeb spectacles. And roller-rink sock-hop soul organ in the other-woman lament "I Know I Cross His Mind" (and "96 Tears" tinkles and "Rumble" twang and ripping Chuck Berry cover elsewhere) almost justifies the authenticity fetish.
On which O Brother Where Art Thou? gives Nashville's cutest one-woman Make a Difference Foundation permission to open with Poguesy fiddles and mandolins, Norah Jones allows her to close with a vaguely jazzy "Over the Rainbow," and Faith Hill allows her to belt like Celine Dion in the two songs that follow each of the two best onesone of which involves beautiful girls just having fun as they stay virgins at 13, live on SpaghettiOs at 25, and count facial lines at 42; the other of which involves a small-town slut defiantly wearing white to get married. The prize azaleas and tomatoes in "So Magical" fit the Lifetime Channel concept, too, as does the wheelchair-bound "Hey Jude" fan who dresses up as a bag of leaves for Halloween in "God's Will"which would be unbearable if not for its curiously extended elevator-music coda.
Top of the World TourLive
Two songs about white-or-not wedding dresses, though that's not the best reason to listen. World history might be. But almost as important is how they start right off with their most controversial hit ever (the one where an abused wife murders her husband; see also Martina McBride's "Independence Day"), which is also the one where Natalie's sass rocks hardest. The next four are nearly as electrifying; then comes the heartbreaker where they predicted soldiers wouldn't come home. Then they sort of calm down some, so you notice how "Cold Day in July" resembles a Skynyrd ballad. Then after their most intricate speed-jig instrumental you switch to Disc Two, where they somewhat pointlessly cover Fleetwood Mac and Dylan-via-Sheryl Crow and occasionally exercise their Sarah McLachlan tendencies. But it's also where Natalie gets to pretend she doesn't know "Truth No. 2" is about cunnilingus, just so she can rock the vote. And eventually they finish up with another fast curveball, about how mattresses are excellent places to commit sins.