Break Up the Concrete

A band in name only, the Pretenders are an alter-ego for a dictatorial singer-songwriter whose drummer happens to be along for the ride. I understand the need for self-preservation, with Chrissie Hynde ostensibly selling more tickets/recordings under a band name versus flying solo. Thankfully, she's kept the quality at a high level, even if we've had to suffer through cringe-inducing moments like "I'll Stand By You."

The band's ninth album goes down a rootsy path with more than a few country music-like flourishes thanks to contributions by Pernice Brother James Walbourne and ex-Son Volt pedal-steel player Eric Heywood. Marketers nervous that the genre might scare away the Pretenders' graying alt-music fanbase insisted on affixing a rockabilly tag to the proceedings. There is truth to that assertion given that the title cut shares similar Bo Diddley-kissed DNA with Link Wray and Robert Gordon, and leadoff single "Boots of Chinese Plastic" is powered by chunky Sun Records guitar riffs. But Hynde does end up doing her share of lap-steel soaked pleading in both "Don't Lose Faith in Me" and "Love's a Mystery."

For sure, Hynde does partake in a bit of self-indulgence. Lines like I love you/Vira lotta, very donkey/Don't ever change that pop up amid the meandering etherealness of "Almost Perfect" induce quite a bit of head-scratching. But in the end, Break Up the Concrete is a fine showcase of Hynde's ability to channel her love of roots rock while breaking in a new crew of sidemen. (Shangri-La Music)

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