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Hayshaker Jones

The Neon Years (Made in America Music)

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The worst thing about this otherwise excellent Northeast Ohio quintet is its name, which sticks to the teeth like a bite of overripe sweet corn. Unlike countless No Depression romantics, however, Hayshaker Jones deserves the comparison that its sound immediately recalls -- Gram Parsons, a figure of country cool second to none.

Like that brilliant and doomed inventor of amped-up Americana, these music-biz veterans obviously love traditional country without negating their debt to its kissing cousin, rock and roll. So if the opener, "Nowhere to Go," immediately recalls Parsons circa 1970, it also recalls Buck Owens circa 1962, back when he was being lambasted for injecting too much Chuck Berry into the Grand Ol' Opry sound. By track three, "In My Mind," they're mainlining Berry himself in a speedy romp reminiscent of down-home Southern rockers like the Georgia Satellites. "Some days when the shit goes down/I don't even wanna get out of bed," croons vocalist-guitarist Clint Holley in the bridge, just before a drum roll propels him back into the whirling mess of his love life.

Smart touches like this saturate the disc. Much of the credit goes to Holley, the self-professed "Angry Young Man for the Band," who wrote 10 of the 13 tracks and produced the whole shebang. But his older bandmates also hold their own -- especially guitarist David Bowling, who also sings lead on his three compositions. For all its skill and taste, the group still falters a bit on the honky-tonk weepers -- a test that has always separated good country singers from great ones -- and lyrics. Truth be told, those two demands often left Parsons slightly wanting, too.

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