hitchin' up a rock-pop

Burning Daylight (Dos Records)
Loose Diamonds

By Allen Howie

It's a rare band that can open for everyone from Willie Nelson and Steve Earle to Poi Dog Pondering and Cracker. A band like that might be tough to categorize, which is probably what brothers Troy and Mike Campbell were aiming for when they put together what would become Loose Diamonds. From their beginnings as the Highwaymen in and around Dayton, Ohio, the brothers combined the bristling, no-limits energy of punk with an instinctive feel for primal rock and roll, moving to Austin, Texas to fuse the two into high-octane music that hits like a gale-force blast from nowhere.

Loose Diamonds' debut, Burning Daylight, collects eleven songs that harness all this energy to solid melodies and skin-tight rhythms. Troy Campbell sounds uncannily like a leaner, meaner Jimmy Buffett, assuming Buffett could hold his own fronting a band this tough. While tunes like "Wake Up Baby," the record's opening cut, ride a jagged line between rock and country, the subsequent "Last One" is pure, heads-into-the-wind rock. The album was produced by guitar virtuoso Stephen Bruton (Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt), who brings a lean, muscular sound that highlights the band's strengths and cranks the tension up a notch or two.

"Advice" finds guitarist Jud Newcomb stepping up to the mike, his ragged, world-weary vocals perfectly suited to the song's live-and let-live outlook. But nothing up to this point prepares you for the pure beauty of "Jenny Please," a picture-perfect ballad that could have come from Dylan's Nashville Skyline sessions.

This is how the whole album goes, from the pedal-to-the-metal roar of "725" to the Springsteenish street-corner ballad "All I Know," from Newcomb's rough-hewn vocal on "How Much I Lost," with its echoes of Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone," to the way Bruton's mandolin waltzes in bittersweet circles around the longing of "Kentucky Eyes." The recurring nightmare in "Side of the Road" pulls the singer perilously close to the abyss, but each time the surging chorus tugs him back to safety, to find tenuous refuge in the nightlife "Downtown."

"Heavens to the Ground" puts Newcomb's voice out front again, this time sounding like John Prine, on a love song so direct it's startling. As with everything else here, it rides on the crest of Loose Diamonds' signature sound, a uniquely American ring that suggests they've tapped into a very rich vein indeed.