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Johnny Belt and The Buckles

The Death of Johnny Belt(self-released)

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Like recent-vintage Cowtown crooners Big Jeter and Rex Hobart, Johnny Belt combines traditional twang with smart comic timing. But Belt is a storyteller more than a singer, spinning yarns in a conversational drawl. He also has a knack for dialogue, best evidenced by this exchange: He said, 'I think you've got a problem with the sauce'/I said, 'I'll have to disagree with you on that one, hoss. ' Belt's narrators are all genuinely likable and just a bit hapless, whether they're shilling moonshine to pay bills or fending off a friend's angry, drunk sister. His bandmates join in during the jubilant choruses, and it's easy to picture amused audiences doing the same. The quartet's rockabilly romps showcase a tight rhythm section, and its best broken-heart ballads boast high-lonesome slide-guitar solos and classic country refrains such as I learned to love being alone instead of learning to love. This impressive album's only fault is that it's slightly overlong, stuffing in two slow tracks too many instead of following the lead of Belt's live-fast, die-young characters.

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