Reviews of CDs by Car 44, The Brooklyn Cowboys and Lonesome River Band 

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Car 44, "Platinum Holes," (Thirsty Ear Records) — Tidewater locals Car 44 are the latest in a long line of quality acts emerging from the regional underground music scene. Their new album, "Platinum Holes," is easy on the ears, and the pop sensibilities used to generate it are impressive. The group is propelled by guitarist/songwriter John Conkle and haunting vocalist Dahna Rowe, and the two help create a unique radio-friendly sound with the aid of their bandmates. At times, Car 44 reminds me of artists such as Blondie and Stone Temple Pilots, while at others I hear hints of the Trick Babys and No Doubt. I think it probably says something about the quality of their music if it can't be pigeonholed as having been derived from only one source as its influence.

Standout tracks on "Platinum Holes" include the anthemlike opener, "Baby It's Me," which was composed by bassist Rob D., "Where Are The Boys?" and the heavy-hearted "Take Care Trevor," which closes the album. This diverting guitar-driven pop effort bodes well for things to come from both Car 44 and the whole Hampton Roads area. — Angelo DeFranzo

The Brooklyn Cowboys, "Doin' Time On Planet Earth" (Leaps) — This country-rock project will get your foot tapping, for sure. There is, however, a huge problem. The Cowboys pay such hats-off homage to Gram Parsons and his music on almost every song that comparisons to the real deal are unavoidable. That's asking for trouble. Singer-guitarist-songwriter Walter Egan fronts this six-member band, and his main claim to fame is as co-author with Parsons of a song he never recorded and of "Hearts on Fire," a tune Parsons and Emmylou Harris nailed on 1974's "Grievous Angel." Egan probably means well, but he sings and writes so dutifully in Parsons' shadow that it's distracting. When you add the Harrislike harmonies of Joy Lynn White on top of Egan's voice, the whole effect is pretty, but it's more misguided than mesmerizing. The rest of the players are talented, but they, too, sound so much like Parsons' "Grievous Angel" studio band that the instrumental tracks could almost be outtakes from the original recording. Parsons has been dead more than 25 years and it's great that his music continues to hold such powerful sway over so many. But I don't need this clonelike effort no matter how reverential the intent. - Ames Arnold

Lonesome River Band, "Talkin' To Myself" (Sugar Hill) — "Talkin' to Myself" is a return to more familiar territory for the Lonesome River Band. But tunes like Ralph Stanley's "Dog Gone Shame" and Lost and Found's "Harvest Time" make this revisit worth the trip. Whether covering the traditional folk tune "Willow Garden" or bringing in new material such as Bill Castle's powerful "Swing That Hammer," LRB digs deep into its bluegrass roots while still exhibiting its hallmark polished sound.

The Lonesome River Band has collected 10 International Bluegrass Music Awards in the past decade, four of which were won by banjoist Sammy Schelor, whose contributions shine throughout, particularly on tracks such as "Dog Gone Shame" and Mark Gainer's "I Won't be Calling For You." The three-time Male Vocalist of the Year, bass guitarist Ronnie Bowman, trades lead vocals with mandolinist Dan Rigsby, whose lively mandolin style leaves a mark all its own. Well-known fiddle player Rickie Simpkin, LRB's newest member, contributes backup vocals on tunes such as Mark Gainer's "Do You Want to Live In Glory." And Kenny Smith's immaculate guitar work on songs such as "I Won't Be Calling For You" displays a virtuosity that stands out even next to Schelor's fiery fingers. Despite the predictable songwriting style on tunes such as "No One Can Love You Dear (The Way I Do)" and "The Crime I Didn't Do," "Talkin' to Myself" is great bluegrass.

- Kevin Finucane


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