BR5-49 -- Live From Robert's / BR5-49 (Arista Nashville)

One of the hottest groups on the country circuit these days is BR5-49. The band took its name from the classic Junior Samples skits on Hee Haw. Live From Robert's, the band's debut, was recorded at Robert's Western World in Nashville--a combination boot emporium/drinking establishment. The members of BR5-49 all bring a multitude of influences to the group. While their roots are firmly planted in traditional country--Hank Williams Sr., Merle Haggard, Johnny Horton, Ernest Tubb & Bob Wills--there's another group of influences that bring a definite edge to the music. How many groups can claim to be into the artists mentioned above - plus surf, punk, ska, James Brown, and Sonic Youth?

Live From Robert's is a fine debut. Rather than writing stereotypical songs about women, pickup trucks, and getting drunk, BR5-49 injects a keen sense of humor into their material, as showcased on "Me 'n' Opie (Down by the Duck Pond). Yes, it seems the boys are also big fans of The Andy Griffith Show. "Me 'n' Opie" is a song about the show's 'lost episode' - a hilarious story of "drug abuse and sexual deviance." This tune alone is worth the price of the CD. Also, don't miss "18 Wheels and a Crowbar." It's got a percolating Duane Eddy-like riff that just won't quit. This is one of those songs that keeps going through your head from the first time you hear it.

Originally released last September (on Hank Williams, Sr.'s birthday), the band's self-titled full length CD is highly recommended too. The bluesy shuffle of "Even if its Wrong" starts off the disc. The song features some fine pedal steel work by Don Herron. Up next is the track that earned the band its first Grammy nomination, "Cherokee Boogie." It's an old Moon Mullican cover, performed here in updated Johnny Horton style. "Little Ramona" is a catchy tune about leaving your punk rock roots for good ole hillbilly music, and has been getting some major airplay on the east coast these days.

There are a few covers on the CD--including a rocking version of Mel Tillis and Webb Pierce's "I Ain't Never." "Chains of This Town" is a Tex-Mex tune that's also been getting a lot of airplay. The chorus on "Are You Gettin' Tired of Me" has a curiously strong resemblance to the recurring Hee Haw skit with Grandpa Jones about bad luck ('if it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all,' etc.). "One Long Saturday Night" brings the CD to a close with its raucous surf /rockabilly guitar licks. All too soon, the disc ends as it began--with the sweet sound of vinyl, in all its scratchy glory.

BR5-49 is a band to keep your eye on. Their musicianship allows them to achieve a true, authentic country/honky tonk sound, and their outside influences & offbeat sense of humor should keep things fresh and interesting for years to come.

© 1997 Steve Marshall