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Sept. 15 - 22, 2000

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*** Slim Cessna's Auto Club


(Alternative Tentacles)

This Denver-based roots-rock band aren't country purists by any means -- there's a modern, anything-goes feel to the mix of bluegrass, rockabilly, gospel, and sea chanteys on their third CD. But there's nothing studied or overwrought in the 13 tracks here. Cessna and his five-man back-up deliver enough lonely truck-stop twang and religious self-doubt ("Jesus Christ" and "Last Song About Satan") to tame the rowdiest roadhouse crowd. Slide guitar anchors "Viceroy Filter King," an ode to a barfly preacher who quotes Scripture between smokes.

Elsewhere, banjo, pump organ, and brisk two-stepping backbeats round out the mix as Cessna intones his ominous, Johnny Cash-style lyrics in a quivering voice. The Auto Club aren't afraid to indulge in a little over-the-top musical drama -- "Cheyenne" opens with the sound of rain in the background and builds to a big thundering C&W climax. "Pine Box," a grim tale of hard-won redemption, is a veritable roots-rock smorgasbord that opens with some rowdy honky-tonk guitars, segues into a slow 'n' spooky refrain that sets Cessna's bullfrog voice against a lone bowed cello, and ends in a gospel waltz at the gates of Heaven, where Cessna's final wish is left unanswered -- "I got on my knees and I kissed the clouds/And I prayed to the Savior, `Don't lock me out.' " Like Sixteen Horsepower, Nick Cave, and Gordon Gano in his God-fearing gospel incarnation, Slim Cessna's Auto Club are happy to play the role of humble hillbillies. They're not better than the rest . . . which is exactly the point.

-- Matt Parish

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