Sounding like a young graduate of the Gary Stewart School of Honky Tonk Heartache, Cale Tyson offers up a potent 21 minutes of the good stuff on his six-song Cheater’s Wine EP. Texas-born and Nashville-based, the singer-songwriter – who also produces – easily masters the ’70s country aesthetic suggested by his album cover, with a studio band highlighted by rising star Robert Ellis on guitar and liberal application of Brett Resnick’s pedal steel. As a songwriter, Tyson favors emotional directness cut with sly self-deprecation. He might not object to being classed with the ‘throwback’ acts, but he also seems sincere in a way that others aren’t: None of the ironic distance or smirky hamminess exhibited by many of his retro-country kin is in evidence here. While nominally including enough of the markers and mannerisms to make his influences obvious, Tyson’s real gift is in rejuvenating the tradition and making it feel fresh and personal again. Writing and singing from the very heart of a honky tonk angel lament like “Borrowed Love (To Go)” or a Possum-esque “Window Up Above” sibling like “Dreams Don’t Come True” might be a difficult and reckless thing for an up-and-coming artist to try in this day and age. But it’s a feat Tyson manages time and again. What’s the upside to all the hurting? Well, you “can’t feel love if you ain’t felt pain,” the young prince of the backstreet bars advises on the set’s sole love-gone-right number. Sound reasoning even if it won’t do either of the characters in “Oaxaca” much good.
Recommended if you like: Gary Stewart, George Jones, Daniel Romano
Grade (Pass/Fail only): PASS