Short Cuts 

Man Like Me

Bobby Pinson

(RCA)

If "Nothin' Happens in This Town" were hidden away on a Drive-By Truckers record, it wouldn't be a big deal. After all, that band's spent a career explicating the low-rent truth of small-town America (see "Zip City" and "Marry Me"). But Bobby Pinson records for a Nashville major label and has placed songwriting copyrights on records by such country stars as Tracy Lawrence and LeeAnn Rimes. You can see his videos on CMT. He's not alternative anything.

Mainstream country isn't nearly as monolithic as its detractors claim, but there's no denying that the genre has long been dedicated to romanticizing small-town life, presenting an idyllic image of a church-going, Little League-playing, traditional-values-embracing world that might as well be a George W. Bush campaign ad. Those of us who grew up in small towns and still have friends or family there know better. And though Pinson is exactly the kind of guy who's supposed to play along with the fantasy, he knows better too - and on this strong debut album he doesn't mind saying so.

In Pinson's version of modern small-town life, "nothin'" happens all the time - except for unwanted pregnancies, boredom-fueled drug problems, and aging former high school football stars dreaming of what might have been. All that's missing is a character who joins the Army because factory jobs are long gone and it's hard to make ends meet stocking shelves at Wal-Mart or working the counter at the Shell station. And even that minor omission is surprising. The son of a high school football coach, Pinson grew up in a series of small towns in the Texas panhandle and spent a few years in the Army before heading to Nashville to write songs.

With his scratchy, idiosyncratic voice, classic-rock crunch, and personal songwriting, Pinson is at least slightly reminiscent of early Steve Earle, and the bet here is that, like Earle (and Dwight Yoakam and Rodney Crowell), he eventually gets weeded out of the Nashville machine and builds his career on the industry's fringes.

But for now, Pinson is mainstream and one of the best new acts the genre has produced this year. He's funny: "Started a Band" is gently comic storytelling worthy of Todd Snider. He upends expectations: On "Man Like Me," he remembers the relief of a girlfriend's negative pregnancy test; on "I Thought That's Who I Was," he hears a memory-provoking ditty on the radio and thinks, "God, I still hate that song." And he's the rare country artist who can make his Christianity connect to liberals or nonbelievers (not necessarily the same thing): "One More Believer" is modest ("I'm no expert on the Word/I can't quote you chapter and verse/But I've heard you love the worst ones too/And I'm the proof"); a hidden-track reading of "Jesus Loves Me" evokes John Prine when it might provoke derision. - Chris Herrington

Grade: A-

Alpine Static

Kinski

(Sub Pop)

This must be one obscenely loud live band. Sometimes you can just feel it through the record, how a band couldn't do anything short of devastating a small club. Kinski do nothing original, but they succeed at what countless other bands have failed at.

A decade ago, scrapping the vocals became popular in the indie-rock world, but very few of the acts who tried that gambit had any teeth. It wasn't long before "post rock" meant "post good," and bands such as Tortoise became far too boring to be spawning the gross number of imitators that they did.

But Kinski make instrumental rock sing. Alpine Static is the band's second album for Sub Pop (their fifth overall), and they tightened things up for this one. No extended workouts or snoozy noodlings, and all ROCK. Kinski haven't lost a taste for the longwinded composition, it's just that most of the previously open space has been filled with blood-boiling volume and thrust. Oh, and two of the strongest cuts, "Wives of Artie Shaw" and "Hiding Drugs in the Temple (Pt. 2)," check in at under four minutes. There's a festive passion to the playing that shucks any and all need for vocals, and it's amazing that a style this obvious can sound so fresh. - Andrew Earles

Grade: A-

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