|Big & Rich:
Between Raising Hell and Amazing Grace Label: Warner Bros.
You know the rednecks and the preppies, they’re in their disco and honkytonks, somewhere between raising hell and amazing grace.
"Country State of Mind" Hank Williams, Jr.
Far from the gravel roads blazed by Bocephus over 20 years ago, and even further from the groundbreaking work of pappy Hank, Sr., today’s quote-unquote country sound is arguably anything but. The pop hooks and contemporary sing-a-longs that send Sugarland and Rascal Flatts straight to the top of the charts would no doubt have Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings spinning in their graves. Big Kenny and John Rich, pioneers of the Muzik Mafia, an informal cult of Nashville’s latest young studs, embrace this fundamental shift from twang to pop jingle and guitar rock as blatantly as anyone. Their breakout hit from 2004, "Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)" currently serves as one of the more instantly-recognizable songs of the genre, whatever that genre may be right now.
On their fourth full-length studio album in as many years, Big & Rich stay the course on Between Raising Hell and Amazing Grace. Spiritual but ornery themes harmonized to the hilt and jacked up with big electric guitars when necessary, they’re sure not reinventing the old wagon wheel. In fact, the most daunting task for the perennial songwriting tandem is to deliver a sincere and tender ballad, like the first single "Lost in This Moment," a staple on this summer’s wedding circuit, alongside a rowdy party mantra called "Radio." Even more challenging is getting their "Love Everybody" religion to be taken seriously, preaching "We have come so far, yet we have so very far to come / Prejudice should not exist in this world," just as their Poison-like guitar riffs give way to the made-for-stadium chant "You’re gonna scream until it hurts, you know you’re gonna get your dollar’s worth!"
Where the mellow, even jazzy vibe of "Faster Than Angels Fly" or gospel piano ballad "Eternity" might solidify their spiritual footing, their rollicking honky tonk interpretation of AC/DC’s "You Shook me All Night Long" – a true love-it-or-hate-it proposition – makes it quite clear these godfathers of the Muzik Mafia won’t be lobbying for altar boy positions anytime soon. "I may be passing out on Friday night, but come Sunday I’ll be passing the collection plate," they croon on the catchy title track. Like John Daly on the PGA Tour, the seemingly overnight love affair with Big & Rich might rest with their everyman appeal. Good enough for them, good enough for me!
Big & Rich have forged a mighty alliance with some of Nashville’s top brass, including Tim McGraw, Martina McBride, and Gretchen Wilson. They write songs for many others and collaborate constantly, most recently with crossover icons Bon Jovi. But the neo-traditional country base continues to scoff at their genre-wrecking style. Record sales keep mounting, however, and the Mafia’s movement is stronger than ever. Raising Hell is poised to be their best-selling album to date, chock full of easy-to-relate-to subject matter and fist-pumping anthems. If they haven’t already, Kenny and John are bound to be comin’ to your city, just in case you want a little bang in your ying yang.