Split Lip Rayfield

Critics likely will never agree on whether Split Lip Rayfield should be classified as bluegrass or country. The good news is that it really doesn't matter. The band is doubly blessed with top-notch fast-picking skills and a twang more natural than any that Keith Urban could muster, so fans of either genre will come away happy. After guitarist Kirk Rundstrom's untimely 2006 passing from esophageal cancer, the remaining members rallied under his name, returned to the road and released comeback LP I'll Be Around last year. Aided by a signature one-string bass fashioned from a gas tank, they stomp out hard-driving tunes with unexpectedly whimsical themes, like "Kiss of Death" (a lyrical parade of cars destroyed by the song's main character) and "Day the Train Jumped the Tracks" (a recollection of childhood follies with fireworks). If you're the dancing type, expect sore muscles the next day.

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Rubrecht, Ward