As their album title (Well-Deserved Obscurity), their liner-note thanks to Waffle House, and their stomping single about being a bar band who sell more beer than records suggest, the Tampa-bred, Nashville Star–judging Warren Brothers are another c&w buddy duo unafraid to make fun of their marginality. They’ve been settling for a while now: Though a 1998 press bio listed Brett’s age at 27 and Brad’s at 29, their latest claims they’re “still in their 20s.” Their stodgy side, admittedly, goes beyond mere earth-toned cover art—the first song catalogs Dennis Leary–level platitudes protesting microbreweries and cigarette taxes and how “new music ain’t got no soul.” Yet there’s heart in their heavy-handedness—especially when they turn dark and spacey, shading their clomp with mandolins, Dobros, harmonicas, keyboards, or boogie-woogie pianos, for instance amid the spooky AOR gloss and prog climax of the “Hazard”-era Richard Marxist murder mystery “Between the River and Me.”
There’s another good murder song later, and only three out of 13 self-penned lyrics opt for vague generalities over concrete details. And oddly, “Runnin’ Out of Heroes,” starring Lois Lane’s restraining order against Superman, isn’t one of them. “Pretty” features a pretty vacant closeted fitness nut who’s got “issues with his father.” And then there’s press-on-nailed Virginia leaving her pew empty after discovering Saturday night, and the crucifix-adorned cleavage of her fellow Rosalita cutting loose of Mama’s reins in “Little Saviour of Brooklyn.” Not to mention the Warrens’ own hard luck and drunken late-night delusions, made palatable by their casual humor—like lots of alt-country guys, they’ve studied their Westerberg (or at least their Dave Pirner). But like more and more Nashville guys, they’ve also studied their Mellencamp—they’ve got body in their voices and oil in their crankcase, and though the sensitive-guy whining on two earlier albums peaked with Counting Crows and Don Henley rips, the new one kicks: Brad spews fruitful solos, and “Quarter to Three” is pure Stones fuzz. Three of the first six songs (a record?) mention therapy. Maybe it helped.