The Volebeats 

Country Favorites

Though they occasionally sing about cars, Detroit's Volebeats sound nothing like Motor City brethren Eminem, Kid Rock, the Insane Clown Posse, Bob Seger, Ted Nugent, Suzi Quatro, MC5, Mitch Ryder, Was (Not Was), the White Stripes, or anything ever released on the Motown label. And while the roots rockers -- anchored by singer-songwriters Jeff Oakes, Matthew Smith, and Bob McCreedy -- indeed spring from the close-harmony, thin-guitar loins of country-rock ancestors Gram Parsons and the Byrds, the title of their sixth album is not only ironic but a bit misleading as well.

Given the egalitarian mix of a half-dozen covers and a half-dozen originals (several released on previous compilations), Country Favorites arrives as something of a dog paddle in between altogether-new releases. And rather than the expected standards from George Jones or Hank Sr. or Patsy Cline, the Volebeats convert the tunes of groups a road trip or more away from Nashville.

Sweden, for example. The album's most recognizable cover, Abba's "Knowing Me, Knowing You," gets the full Byrds treatment, while the George Clinton-penned "Maggot Brain" (originally recorded by Detroit-based Parliament) could peacefully coexist on any mid-'70s Pink Floyd offering. By contrast, Slayer's "Die by the Sword" spills out with low-register vocals and a menacing rumble of instrumentation. Only the York Brothers' "Hamtramck Mama," a 1940s ode to suburban Detroit prostitution, is inherently country. Here the trebly twang propels such authenticity it's hard to believe the song could be performed without cigarettes, doghouse bass, starched white shirts, and delineated comb tracks through a carefully plumbed pompadour.

And yet it's the Volebeats originals that are truly Country Favorites. From the Bakersfield shuffle of "One I Love" through the melancholy acceptance of "Too Much Love" ("Too much love/Sometimes just ain't enough/And too much wine/Soaks up all your time") and the good-enough-for-a-slow-dance resignation of "Almost Crying," the Volebeats prove they don't have to go outside their own songbook to be as mournful as they wanna be.


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