Kind-Hearted Country

Between Two Lions
Put This City on My Shoulders (Independent)

By Tim Roberts

There's a quote, attributed to Elvis Costello who said he borrowed it from Martin Mull, which goes, "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture." That must mean we music critics are wasting our time and could put our meager typing skills to better use by doing something more constructive: creating pithy essays of social criticism, composing political tracts, writing dirty instant messages over the Internet to lonely housewives.

Okay, for now let's use hobo symbols to describe music.

Back when the Kings of the Road stowed themselves aboard boxcars to get from one town to the next, they would communicate with each other through a set of primitive symbols scrawled on rocks at deserted campsites, on railroad trestles, on sidewalks. If a combination of circles and lines that looked like a cat was drawn on the ground in front of a house, it meant that a kind woman lived there. An upended rectangle with a line struck through the bottom, the shape of a top hat, meant that a kind gentleman lived there.

So to describe Put This City on my Shoulders, the second release from New Albany's Between Two Lions, draw the hobo symbol for a kind gentleman and draw a quarter-note in it.

This is alt-country music done with kindness.

The songs in City are overall low-key, full of loneliness and longing (due largely to the understated pedal steel guitar work from Tim Corley), yet there is no apparent variation in theme or tone. But that's good because it means there is a consistency throughout the work: straightforward with no surprises.

However, the messages in the songs are positive and speak of bearing burdens and owning up to mistakes, such as taking someone's love for granted in "Madeline," where lead vocalist Brent Engle sings "[you] Stowed your love in an overhead bin / Just above my heart / Told myself one day I'd need it / But I forgot." Or of the murderer full of regret, doing hard time in prison in "From the Inside," where he says he'd return his victim's life if it meant he could be free. That's appropriately followed by "Rain Parade," where a man pleads to be buried next his parents and that the heart of his one true lover is protected.

Punctuating the lessons learned in the previous tracks is "Mouth Full of Magic," a song about the support a community, or even a home, can give to a person and the simple gesture of reciprocation that person can make. One verse contains the CD's title, stating, "I know I can lean on this town / And when the time is right / I'll put this city on my shoulders."

While the entire work of Put This City on My Shoulders has a musical and lyrically- thematic consistency, it doesn't make its point baldly with melodrama. A lot like life, its messages are subtle. They hit you when you're least ready - sort of a twist on the Buddhist saying that when the student is ready, the teacher appears. More like the teacher appears right when the student is still in his boxer shorts and t-shirt scrounging for pencil and a piece of paper while the TV's still on.

Get ready for your life lessons at