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Album Review

Riley Etheridge, Jr.'s press materials for his second album, Powder Keg, refer to him as an Americana artist, which is a reasonable enough description, given that the arrangements on the disc include country, rock, blues, soul, pop, folk, and Cajun styles, with a horn chart on one song and a steel guitar and fiddle on the next. Etheridge himself speaks of examining the Americana charts and seeing there names of fellow artists he admires, such as John Mellencamp, Steve Earle, and Lyle Lovett. The implication is that he is to be categorized with them, not only in terms of musical style, but also in terms of accomplishment, but the album doesn't justify such a conclusion. Etheridge has a good, husky voice, and his accompanists pick out the different genres well, but his songs lack the individuality of a Lovett or Earle. He sings of love and rural life, and even reflects on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in "Look at the State We're In" (and he covers a much better songwriter, Willis Alan Ramsey, on "Northeast Texas Women"). But there's nothing here that really stands out as signature material. Rather, the collection comes off as a high-quality publishing demo, to be passed around in Nashville in hopes of getting a cut on a prominent country artist's album and thus generating some income. For himself, Etheridge seems to have mastered a range of rural musical forms and is able to craft songs, but he lacks a spark of inspiration that would make his tunes matter.

Powder Keg, Riley Etheridge, Jr.
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