Houston Music

Jesse Dayton

You tell 'em, Jesse. Hey Nashvegas! could be subtitled "Listen and Learn." This is country music as it should be, not the stuff that gets played on the radio (KIKK's recent love affair with the title track notwithstanding).

Unlike with many neotraditionalists, who mistake classic song sentiments for their own feelings, Dayton's songwriting feels like he's taken his life experience and injected it into genuine country forms. "Never Started Living," "Date with the Angels," "Heartbreak California" and "Letter to Home" all ring of sincerity.

"Heartbreak" is especially effective, with evocatively simple lines like "I get a feeling from the ceiling fan above my head." Featuring Flaco Jimenez, the song is probably the best Tex-Mex country track since Dwight Yoakam's take on Warren Zevon's "Carmelita." Hell, this whole album is as confidently balanced on the fulcrum of tradition and modernity as the best by Yoakam, the undisputed master of that game.

This set visits country staples -- barrooms, the lonely road, hearts both broken and aglow -- yet sheds new light on these well-traveled themes. Dayton sings with spirit, boldness and authenticity, and each track brims with energetic, sharp and soulful playing (kudos to steel/Dobro player Brian Thomas). Even with the album's star-studded guest list, including the Dixie Chicks, Mandy Barnett and Johnny Gimble, it's still Dayton and his songs that demand attention.

Hey Nashvegas! sounds like a bold statement of purpose from an artist who's firing on all pistons. Even the title song serves as a rare clarion call for what's good about country music rather than yet another salvo at all that's wrong.

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Rob Patterson