Country Grammar

Hick-hoppers old and young pick hoop, bop over whoop, chaps

Second line of first song from Brooklyn country-rap DIYers B-Star: "You won't see me on MTV posing in chaps." I suppose the singer in the crinoline is no problem, though—like most small acts, B-Star has a better sense of what they're fighting against than what they're fighting for. Country and rap together isn't nearly the big whoop they make it out to be—word to the Disco Four and the Bellamy Brothers. Where they could win is in a strong argument for overlapping roots and working-class camaraderie. Instead, we get missed opportunities (no "Laffy Taffy" for the pre-set burlesque?), easy bromides about hospital cutbacks and—cue sound of Lou Dobbs gasping—outsourcing, all with a side of anti-bling condescension ("It's not a party 'til Jay-Z stabs someone." Hee-haw.) Frontman Rench is a charmless rapper, mistaking observation for insight, but an intuitive singer, always dour, sharpening his duets with the hoopskirted Veronica Dougherty, who shines in "Recession" and the smoky, excellent "Too Far Gone." (Violinist—I mean, fiddler—Michi Wiancko is also slumming below her skill set here.)

Rench didn't name Kid Rock as an enemy while advertising his self-organized "First Ever Country Hip-Hop Festival"—Troy and Bubba got crosshairs, instead—because maybe he realizes Detroit's mojo-est has done more for his cause than he ever could. Even when he's singing, Rock hits his phrasings like the rapper he sometimes still is. But his modest talent isn't incommensurate with immodest vision and ambition; he's rationalized and unified his competing influences. A medley of "Blitzkrieg Bop," "White Lines," and "Sweet Home Alabama" jells cleanly. Then he channels Bert Campaneris, playing banjo, turntables, and drums in quick succession.

At worst, Rock flirts with becoming a heritage act, sating fans' need to be reminded of their love for "Freebird" and "Drift Away" in between the raucous "American Bad Ass" and 10-minute versions of "Bawitdaba." But he saves it by ditching the Nudie-esque pants for wifebeater and jeans and easing into "Picture," his own Great American Songwriter bid. Live, his drummer fills in for the absent Sheryl Crow. Hey, Veronica—in these parts, that's called a job opening.

 
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