Mark Stuart and his Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash cannot be accused of false advertising. New Old Story abounds with likable new approaches to well-trod subject matter. The main ‘story’ here seems to be the allure and excitement of the rambling musical life on one hand and its costs back at home on the other. If you’re not familiar with the band (formed in 1995) yet, their name might deceive you. They don’t sound much like Cash, nor do they have the punk or Americana leanings suggested by the willingness to scare off good Christian folks by starting their band name with a mild curse. They are, in fact, a brawny roadhouse honky tonk band doing stuff not unlike what you could have heard on Hal Ketchum or Dwight Yoakam records during the ’90s. That makes them wildly out of step with what’s happening on mainstream radio today, of course, a fact they take as a point of pride: The vigorous, freewheeling “No Honky Tonks” mourns the demise of real country music and real country venues from California to Texas and Oklahoma (whose Red Dirt is “just rock and roll to me,” Stuart hazards). It’s that restless desire to keep thoughtful, traditional country music alive that keeps the boys “Highway Bound” – where the album starts – and ultimately leads to the kind of staring down of consequences at home exemplified by its final chapter, “Bounds of Your Heart.” In between, there’s a lovely, textured mix of guitars, banjo, Dobro, fiddle, mandolin, pedal steel, piano, and more, comprising a full arsenal of rootsy country goodness. Combined with Stuart’s solid songs and pliable voice – he can sound as pissed off and dangerous as Jamey Johnson or as smooth as Lyle Lovett, as needed – this is one new old story worth hearing again and again.
Recommended if you like: Hal Ketchum, Dwight Yoakam, Dale Watson
Grade (Pass/Fail only): PASS