There's something funny about a band like Nashville's BR5-49 being hailed as a leader in the alternative-country explosion when it's clearly enamored with the classic honky-tonk of the 50s--a love evident in the group's retro look as well as its music. The "alternative" tag, of course, arises from the antidote their music provides to the blandness of most Nashville product these days. Started two years ago as an old-fashioned country band that played for tips at a combination bar and boot shop, BR5-49 soon developed a rabid following of hipsters, college students, and Nashville industry types. Though the bulk of their huge repertoire consisted of covers of both obscure and well-known country nuggets, they had begun writing originals, and before long they were signed to Arista, a label that has successfully perpetuated the same square hat acts BR5-49 stood against. On its great-sounding self-titled debut, the group covers tunes by Johnny Horton, Jerry Lee Lewis, Mel Tillis, Webb Pierce, and Gram Parsons, but the originals written by singer-guitarists Chuck Mead and Gary Bennett might as well be covers. The strongest indication that this record was made in 1996 is "Little Ramona (Gone Hillbilly Nuts)," which astutely observes the attitudinal connection between classic country and punk rock that has fueled the whole country-rock revival: old punk rockers think country was once shit-kicking music without concern for mainstream acceptance. Well, they got it half right. Thursday, 9 PM, and next Friday, January 31, 10:30 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508. PETER MARGASAK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Jim Herrington.