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Tommy Womack

Tommy Womack
(Sideburn Records)

Tommy Womack is Steve Earle with a sense of humor. To those (like me) who regard Earle with the awe generally accorded religious martyrs, this is no small claim. But after listening to his breathtaking sophomore solo platter about 12,000 times, there can be no doubt that Womack belongs in Earle's league.

On Stubborn he's surrounded himself with a cast of brilliant roots-rock conspirators, including Dan Baird (Georgia Satellites), Mike Grimes (Garrison Starr), and Will Kimbrough. They, along with producers Robin Eaton and Brad Jones (Earle, Marshall Crenshaw), keep the songs rough-hewn and close to the bone. Jason Ringenberg (Jason and the Scorchers) joins Womack on the rollicking, honky-tonk "Going Nowhere," while George Bradfute's crunching guitar infuses "I Don't Have a Gun" with a sense of imminent danger. The legendary Al Perkins (Gram Parsons) adds his weepy dobro to the sweetly melancholy "The Urge to Call."

Womack, who built a cult following as a member of the Southern punk popsters Government Cheese and the Bis-Quits, can't really sing much. His voice is thin and adenoidal; he strains to hit the high notes. But his yowling is so heartfelt as to assume a strange plangency on ballads such as "She Likes to Talk" and "Dreams and Golden Rivers." Even Womack's sillier efforts hit the mark. Clocking in at 35 seconds, "Christian Rocker" contains the most succinct indictment of God-rock I have yet to encounter: "I want to be a Christian rocker/But the devil's got all the good drummers."

Stubborn shows Womack at the top of his game. A songwriter of gut-wrenching power and wry lyricism, he deserves a place within the first rank of America's bad-boy troubadours. -- Steve Almond