Riding the retro rail armed with everything a gussied-up hillbilly could possibly need, BR5-49 restores fun and frivolity to country music with no pandering and no slapstick. They treat the honky-tonkers of the ’50s and ’60s with polite reverence; this should be the face of the Grand Ole Opry.
But the attraction here is in their throwback fashions, harmonies and material that suggest simpler times and all the cliches of country music — broken-down trucks, losing your woman and your job, and basically being too drunk to find your way home. As instrumentalists they swing as well as any band in the current swing fad and they use all of vintage country’s tried-and-true tricks: twangy guitars, weepy pedal steel, slap bass and high lonesome voices.
“Big Backyard Beat Show,” the group’s second studio album on Arista, however, attests that they aren’t maturing as much as they’re perfecting the act. BR5-49, seen as one of the few acts that can show young rock fans that country isn’t all big hats and tight jeans, avoids being a goof, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t close.
The act needs more original songs that draw a line from country’s hillbilly roots to modern music and they certainly have the tools to pull influences from anywhere. Otherwise, they’re just soaking in it.
Judging from Wednesday’s show, BR5-49 can be too steady, too predictable and eventually, bland. When Big Sandy, who leads the Western outfit the Fly-Rite Boys, took the stage to play guitar and sing, the act got a sudden injection of new life: a baritone voice, a harder rhythm and little less booming on the bass — a brief inclination of what this music could be.