On Tangled in the Pines (Dualtone), the first full-length from BR549 in three years, Chuck Mead sounds worn-out, snakebit, and altogether unlike the front man of what was once by reputation the most irrepressible good-time bar band in Nashville. Given the group’s history it’s hard to blame him. Having established themselves in Music City’s Lower Broadway scene in the mid-90s, the resolutely old-school five-piece signed with Arista/Nashville, which touted them as country’s saviors; they made a few well-reviewed albums before being dropped when the label was absorbed by RCA in 2000. Epic then picked them up, only to discard them after one slick and disappointing release, at which point two members (including the other main songwriter, Gary Bennett) quit the band. Mead lets all the accumulated bitterness out on Tangled: he’s set aside the usual BR549 blend of half originals, half well-chosen chestnuts, and written most of the songs himself. His frustrations sometimes play out in metaphor, as on the title track, but more often he’s explicit in his contempt for the country mainstream, doing everything short of yodeling the home phone numbers of Music Row record execs to let you know just who’s treated him wrong. This would all be so much bellyaching if heartbreak weren’t the coin of the honky-tonk realm, and if the band’s mastery of the genre weren’t so comprehensive. The new stuff quotes unapologetically and often from Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, and George Jones, all men who understood the liberating power of singing about their failures; when Mead laments, “I’ve been milked real slow so many years in a row,” he’s in good company. $15. Friday, July 30, 10 PM, FitzGerald’s, 6615 Roosevelt, Berwyn; 708-788-2118 or 312-559-1212.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Ron Keith.