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CD REVIEW: Chris Unck and the Black Roses - Country Roads and Love
By Chip Withrow - 04/06/2008 - 12:54 PM EDT

Artist: Chris Unck
Album: Country Roads and Love
Website: http://www.
Genre: Americana
Sounds Like: Merle Haggard, Black Crowes, Pink Floyd, John Lennon
Production/Musicianship Grade: 10/10
Commercial Value: 8/10
Songwriting Skills: 9/10
Performance Skill: 9/10
Best Songs: Don't Send Me Roses, Lucy Twine, When We Meet Again
CD Review: Most of the time, I’m a happy guy. But I’m also a big fan of countrified melancholia, and I’ve been digging this disc a lot lately.

Chris Unck has gathered a dozen musicians to fashion Country Roads and Love, an album that conjures Merle Haggard, the Black Crowes, Dark Side of the Moon and Sergeant Pepper. Oddly and brilliantly, it works.

The first track, “Winding Rivers,” is sparse and quiet, almost like you’re peeking inside Unck’s mind. Then come “Got No Sleep,” a blues-soul production that incorporates gospel-style piano, pedal steel, sax, and choral vocals behind Unck’s raspy yet powerful vocal. Another sax-fueled (Brad Thomas does the wailing) burner is the hopeful-yet-mournful “I’ll Find My Way Home,” which is also buoyed by searing guitar riffs.

“Don’t Send Me Roses” reminds me in both style and substance of a good Haggard weeper like “Sing Me Back Home.” The chorus of “Roses” would make a great bar-room singalong (the narrator doesn’t want flowers, but whiskey, at his grave). The title cut is a big ol’ boozy affair too – a hymn from the Church of Excess, and soaring slide guitar from Benji Shanks.

Yeah, most of these songs are about depressing topics, but the music mines interesting genres. “Crackerbox Palace” is spectral like one of the creepier numbers on Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and “My Oh My” reminds me of a confessional John Lennon solo song. Unck also employs other lead vocalists to great effect on a few of the songs – one of them, “I Feel the Rain,” is a nice contemplative cut on which Andy Asuit (who also wrote it) delivers a thoughtful, Johnny Cash-like turn.

And then there’s one of my favorites, “Lucy Twine,” a tale of murderous revenge that tugs at me even more because it mentions my birth state of West Virginia. It chugs along with high-lonesome intensity, and Andy Kilinsky nails his pedal steel spots.

I dig the full-band tunes, but one of the gems is the simple, almost totally acoustic “When We Meet Again.” It’s a desperate road song, sort of like something from Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, and it’s one of Unck’s most poignant, image-rich lyrics.

Country Roads and Love is packed with music – 16 songs, half of them over five minutes long. I do wish there were a few more up-tempo numbers, although I appreciate Unck’s thematic ambition. Chris Unck delivers for those true country/folk/blues fan who know that joy can be found in heartache.

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