lonesome country music, aisle three

Wild Kentucky Skies (MCA)
Marty Brown

By Cary Stemle

What about this Marty Brown?

Looks like he just fell off the cattle truck, sounds like it too. Wears that hat that looks just a tad bit too small.

But how can you fault a guy whose main marketing strategy is playing in the aisles and parking lots of various and sundry Wal-Marts around this great nation?

You can't, especially when the man's music lives up to the gimmick.

On his second LP, Brown continues singing about feeling bad but sounds like he feels so good doing it. Brown tends toward the traditional, but that's not to say he can't hang with the ever-widening cadre of new country heartthrobs. Listen to Brown pushing along the radio-ready "It Must Be the Rain," then crying plaintively on "God Knows." Catch him stomping through "No Honky Tonkin' Tonight" and "I'd Rather Fish Than Fight," and breaking our hearts with the title track.

As some of the song titles suggest, anyone covering this musical territory runs the risk of being excessively campy. Brown makes a lot of his humble Maceo, Ky., beginnings, but he's no rube. He steers clear of hokiness by the sheer force of his wily, knowing persona.

In addition, Brown had the good sense to employ musicians who complement him while not dominating or fading into the woodwork. The lineup includes steel guitar legend Buddy Emmons and fiddler Stuart Duncan, both of whom contribute mightily. The production is first-rate, and Brown's pipes will rival anyone working in popular music today.