When this Nashville group first surfaced, playing for tips at a bar/western-wear store in the mid-'90s, its brand of retro-country seemed destined for filing under "throwback novelty act." In other words, forever shunted to the same musical room as Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and the Squirrel Nut Zippers. And frankly, the sartorial choice of string ties and overalls didn't help.
But after years of touring, records, personnel shifts and at least one official breakup, the band that took its name from (all together now ) a Junior Samples Hee Haw sketch has done something amazing with its latest, Dog Days: BR5-49 has put out a record that's substantially alive and interesting.
Trimmed down to a quartet since Tangled in the Pines, the lineup includes original members Chuck Mead (vocals/guitar), Shaw Wilson (drums) and Donnie Herron (fiddle/steel/mandolin/banjo), with new recruit Mark Miller on bass. On Dog Days, the band embraces a wide array of styles effortlessly, from bluegrass ("Poison") to rock ("Leave It Alone") to vocal doo-wop ("The Devil in Me," which could pass for a lost Sun 45) to stone country ("Let Jesus Make You Breakfast"). And Herron, taking time from his other gig with Bob Dylan's band, continues earning his musical MVP trophy, even getting in some Hammond B-3 time. What would Ernest Tubb think?
With wry lyrical humor and crack instrumental cohesion, BR5-49 is a rare group (especially for country) that has actually improved with the passage of time, allowing them to keep the overalls stored in the barn.