March 2002

The Star Room Boys - This World Just Won't Leave You Alone
Slewfoot Records SF806
Released: 2002

by Marc Rigrodsky

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

[Reviewed on CD]The blues are divided between those who have 'em, and those who just sing about 'em. Country music is like that too. Either you have lived those songs about cheatin’, drinkin’, trucks, trains, jail, and loneliness, or you’re, well, Tim McGraw.

I don’t know much about the Star Room Boys, but they sure sound like the real thing. The mournful vocals, the weepy steel guitar, the sense of longing and regret that oozes out of every song -- hell, it sounds like these guys need to get out of Texas. But it turns out, they’re from Athens, Georgia, the birthplace of R.E.M. and many other smart, hip bands. So, are these guys the real deal, or just poseurs? I suspect the former, because country fakers don’t set out to write and play music reminiscent of Merle Haggard or George Jones. But it doesn’t really matter in the end, because their music makes the question irrelevant.

The songs generally follow the same pattern: a couple of verses and choruses, a steel solo followed by an electric solo (or vice versa), a final verse and chorus, then out. The tempos are generally mid to slow, although there are a few churners, like "The Daydreamer" (a song about a half-asleep trucker who’s "doing 80 with his baby on his mind"). Not revolutionary stuff, although Johnny Neff (steel guitar) and Phillip McArdle (lead guitar) are fine players.

Dave Marr’s deep-throated closing-time vocals and his consistently skillful turn of the phrase are what make the band special. "Whiskey is winning between whiskey and you," he solemnly declares on "Whiskey and You." "I don’t know why you choose me for your funny little game/the rules are always different but the winner’s still the same/I don’t know why I pick up when you call me on the phone/Well, I guess I just can’t stand to be alone," he sings on "I Can’t Stand to Be Alone," a western swing number complete with a little yodeling at the end. Other songs mine traditional country territory: "The 4:05" is a lonesome, insomniac, train-whistle song; "Bars and Stone" is the inside-looking-out mirror image of Lucinda Williams’s outside-looking-in "Concrete and Barbed Wire" prison song.

So what do you want for your country music? Millionaire pretty boys in cowboy hats and tight pants with beautiful wives and beer and truck endorsements? Yeah, sure, that’s the real deal, I reckon. If you like classic down-and-out country music, straight up, no chaser, the Star Room Boys are for you. And me.