Backsliders cofounder Steve Howell quit the band in the middle of recording its recently released second album, Southern Lines (Mammoth), and not long after it was completed everyone but singer-guitarist Chip Robinson followed his lead. Howell shows up on the songwriting credits for only 4 of the album’s 11 selections, and the sound of Southern Lines, produced by Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, is quite different from that of the band’s heavily countrified but eclectic ’97 LP, Throwin’ Rocks at the Moon. It’s darker and more doleful roots rock that rarely employs old-school Nashville flourishes (although former Buckaroo Tom Brumley adds some pedal steel on a few tracks); the Band and the Boss loom way larger than Buck Owens or Hank Williams. Robinson sings with an appealingly dour soulfulness, and his well-worn melodies feel familiar in a nice way, like a favorite pair of jeans. Try real hard to focus on them, because his lyrics will make poetry you wrote in high school look profound. In all but a couple songs on Southern Lines, he’s moaning about a breakup or pleading for one more chance before it’s too late or turning to booze to ease the pain or staring at the moon, and while I realize lost love is a subject most folks can relate to, Robinson handles it with fists of ham. I mean, there’s simply no excuse for earnestly rhyming “like water” with “I oughter.” The big epiphany comes on the album’s last song, “Psychic Friend,” when the sad sack finally acknowledges his problems…and turns to a palm reader for help. Robinson’s new Backsliders appear as part of the FitzGerald’s 18th annual American Music Festival; stick around for the great Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys. Saturday, 9:45 PM, FitzGerald’s, 6615 Roosevelt, Berwyn; 708-788-2118. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Mike Traister.