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Big & stupid

The proof of country music’s conservatism comes not from its tame conformists, but from the acts viewed in Nashville as radical innovators. A decade ago it was the Kentucky Headhunters, a warmed-over Molly Hatchet at least two decades behind the curve in rock terms, but positively cutting-edge to country listeners.

These days, John Rich and “Big Kenny” Alphin, known collectively as Big & Rich, are being proclaimed C&W saviors because they dare to dabble in bar-band funk and Southern rock, and share their stage with a black country rapper named Cowboy Troy. Big & Rich are mightily impressed with their own irreverence, leading off their sophomore album by declaring that someone “has to be unafraid to lead the freak parade.”

Comin’ To Your City
Big & Rich
(Warner Bros.)

What does this freak parade amount to? For the most part, it’s an attempt at the kind of redneck rock defined by Kid Rock, itself a throwback to ’70s records by the likes of Hank Williams Jr. and David Allan Coe. “Soul Shaker” and the album’s title track both amount to blatant Kid Rock imitations, with an extra dollop of obnoxious stupidity thrown in. Big & Rich certainly view themselves as outlaws, but there’s no danger or threat to their music, only goofball, ain’t-we-crazy jokes that sound like the last refuge of desperate journeymen. Their idea of envelope-pushing is to write about two strangers joining the mile-high club (“Caught Up in the Moment”) or to equate a Latina woman with a jalapeño: “Well I got a girlfriend, her name is Maria/ sexy, spicy hot señorita.”

Just to soothe any tender red-state ears, they close out the album with some heavy patriotic corn, first with the incongruously somber Vietnam saga, “8th of November,” and finally with a close-harmony version of the “Star Spangled Banner” (here titled “Our America”). Beware: This is cheese that carries an odor and leaves a stain.

By Gilbert Garcia


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