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Thursday, March 3, 2005 03:54 am

now playing 3-3-05

art1860

The classic-country period of popular music, which roughly lasted 1950-1965, was a time when hillbillies really came from the hills, Okies were a legitimate group of immigrants in California, and electricity was rearing its ugly head to influence the sound of musical instruments. It was a glorious time now emulated a generation (or two) later by musicians craving the beauty and the beat of a music complex in its sheer simplicity. The rules are set for re-enactment of classic country. Certain topics, chord progressions, instruments, and clothing are required for membership in this very private country club.

Rex Hobart is a believer in and user of all the regulations, yet he finds a way to work well within the limits of what constitutes the genre while seeming as fresh as a steaming cow pie. An alumnus of a popular Kansas City punk-rock band from several years back, Hobart stuck his foot into the quicksand of honky-tonk and was sucked in for good.

Since his conversion, Hobart and the Misery Boys have established themselves nationally as a major force in the minor world of alternative/classic-country music. His voice is not of stunning quality, but it has the proper amount and use of passion necessary to convince us of the validity of his woes. He keeps the subject matter where it belongs — cheatin’, drinkin’, and other mainstays of the honky-tonk world. Dancing, an often overlooked but important point of properly performed classic country, is a pleasure with the gentle swing and hillbilly boogie of the Misery Boys. The band dresses sharply in musical-cowboy clothes and comes armed with acoustic guitars and basses, (minimal) drums, steel guitars, and chicken-pickin’ six-strings.

After working with producer Lou Whitney on its first two CDs, the group was nabbed by Bloodshot Records of Chicago. The popular alt-country label describes the band’s fourth CD, Empty House (just released Feb. 22), as delivering “on the promise that between nostalgia and progress is timelessness.”

The Bloodshot publicity crew, known for their fine use of hyperbole and downright disgust for the contemporary Nashville scene, are onto something here. I’m not exactly sure what it is, but I believe they mean to say that if you can dance to it, drink to it, and think to it, it’s the good stuff. /p>

Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys lope into the Underground City Tavern (700 E. Adams St.; 217-789-1530) on Saturday, March 5, for a 9 p.m. show.

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