by INLANDER & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & here was a time when alt-country must have been shocking. I don't remember that time because I was only, like, 12, but it must've been wild. It had been a long time since rockabilly madness had sent Johnny Cash and Elvis tear-assing around the South, and for much of the interim, its component parts -- rock, country and blues -- had maintained a comfortable distance. Putting them back together in the wake of hair metal and grunge would have blown minds.
That was a decade and a half ago, though. Uncle Tupelo happened. The Jayhawks happened. Son Volt's still happening. There's a sense (especially in the pages of No Depression) that alt-country needs to justify its continued existence. The case the DRY COUNTY CROOKS make isn't big and fiery, talking of championing the poor, alcoholic downtrodden masses the way an Uncle Tupelo reunion would. It's simpler, playing a set of tunes without pretension or gimickry or hope. Just some dudes playing some tunes, trying to chase away the blues.
-- LUKE BAUMGARTEN
Dry County Crooks with Reptet, Williston at the Zombie Room on Saturday, May 19 at 9 pm. $5. Call 838-1570.
Like a lot of really brilliant songwriters, JOHN PRINE doesn't have a good voice. It's not bad-good in that Willie Nelson way or horrible-great in that Win Butler (The Arcade Fire) way. It's kinda awkward, leaning toward characterless; making everything he sings stand way out. Which, ya gotta figure, means the tremendous success he had in the '70s and the amazing work he continues to churn out today hinges on his incomparable lyricism.
In the late '80s and '90s, when -- like so many singer-songwriters who had gotten used to their traditionalist bent courting unexpected mainstream success -- he found that success waning, Prine chased after it, employing mainstream producers (Tom Petty's bassist, Howie Epstein) and production values. The result was a stylistic cacophony -- grating, ornate blues and rock layers over his simple, gravelly warble. Though difficult to listen to, Prine's simple perceptions and easy humor still make the albums accessible, like Bill Cosby narrating a plane crash.
John Prine at the Bing on Monday, May 21 at 8 pm. $52. Visit www.ticketswest.com or call 325-SEAT.
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & I & lt;/span & n his latest single, after spending a short verse and lengthy chorus wooing a young lass at a local watering hole ("you press that bottle to your lips / and I wish I was your beer," "your jeans are playing peek-a-boo / I'd like to see the other half of that butterfly tattoo," "I'd like to walk you through a field of wild flowers," etc.), BRAD PAISLEY offers a jaw-dropping euphemism: "I'd like to check you for ticks."
Now that's country. No wonder he's practically the only guy in Nashville music who still wears a cowboy hat. Homie's a believer. The rest of the song invokes hunting, four-wheeling and a line comparing himself to insects ("the only thing allowed to crawl all over you ... is me").
Sure melody is too sproingy and slick (too Kenny Loggins-y) to invoke any country outlaws, but if that duet with Alison Krauss didn't convince you of Paisley's pop country traditionalism, "Ticks'" odd imagery should.
-- LUKE BAUMGARTEN
Brad Paisley with Jack Ingram, Taylor Swift and Kellie Pickler at the Spokane Arena on Thursday, May 24 at 8 pm. $45. Visit www.ticketswest.com or call 325-SEAT.