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Paul Burch

Our critics' picks in new releases

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Sometime Lambchop collaborator Paul Burch gives lie to the easy bigotry of alt-rock fans that are quick to dismiss country music. Though the acclaim heaped on artists like Jeff Tweedy, Ryan Adams and Will Oldham has cracked the prejudicial door, it's often done with a nod and a wink. Burch, on the other hand, seems free from irony, delivering a startling imitation of country music's heyday in the 1930s and '40s, conjuring the ghost of Roy Acuff and the Grand Ole Opry. Gifted with a gilded voice, his light rich tenor is well suited to the soft twang of this one-time populist sound.

The songs were created as a musical counterpoint to Tony Early's novel, Jim the Boy, with the characters singing of their experiences in what Burch cleverly describes as "Shakespearean-like" asides. Unlike a photograph or an old 78 record, there's no loss of fidelity in this nostalgic snapshot. From the raggy lope of "Harvey Hartsell's Farm," with Burch's Nashville Skyline-era Dylan feel, to the gentle back porch blues of "Mama Shoo'd The Blackbirds" or the gospel-inflected "Sun Don't Shine," with its echo of The Carter Family, Last of My Kind has the breadth of a Smithsonian exhibit. More than simply great music, the songs themselves speak with the distinctive voice of their protagonists. "Amos's Blues" bounds with the brash admonitions of a fiery ol' moonshiner, who warns he can "look at bacon and fry it on a plate/Any fool that cross my mountaintop/They're all down the pushing wild daisies up." The title track is perhaps the album's best: a soft-bellied ballad with Burch's downcast tenor rolling over the listener like the Velvet Fog himself. Burch has made a terrific album, one that demonstrates the timelessness of great music.

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