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The Hollisters Sweet Inspiration

High Tone Records

For those who like traditional country, this is the real deal. Nearly every song hearkens back to old-timey C&W, in both sound and content. Inspiration leads off with "Fishin' Man," a Cajun-flavored dance tune in which lead singer Mike Barfield sings the praises of casting lines over working nine to five. Austin's Champ Hood plays a sweet fiddle on this perfect two-stepper.

Twangy guitar leads and solos fuel the title tune, penned by former Hollister guitarist Eric Danheim, who left the band shortly after recording the album. "Love Rustler," written by Austin harp master Ted Roddy, is a breakneck roots rocker, while "Tonkin'," as the name implies, extols the virtue of "living the life of a freeborn man."

Now, if all that's not C&W as Hank knew it, not much is.

The thematic core of this CD is revealed on both "Thrill of the Ride," a classic hell-raising tune, and "Sugarland," a Tom Clifford composition. The latter shows listeners just where the band is coming from by playing on Sugar Land's past as a prison town and its present as an upper-middle-class suburb. Perhaps the song serves as a metaphor for the Hollisters' approach to country. Barfield's vocals are drenched in the kind of menace that made Johnny Cash's songs incandescent.

Traditional themes abound on Sweet Inspiration: transportation, heavy drinking and death. "Two Trains" is either a railroad song or a love song, depending on how you interpret the lyrics. "Holes in the Road" is a truck-drivin' tune, the kind you used to hear on late-night country radio. "Drinking for Two" is a classic drinking song, which any self-respecting honky-tonk outfit must pen at some point.

Speaking of composing, unlike in previous collaborations, Danheim and Barfield split the chores mostly evenly this time: Danheim wrote the lyrics, and Barfield composed the melodies. It makes you wonder where the Hollisters will go from here.

 
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