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The timelessness of country music is rooted as much in its lyrics of struggle and sorrow as it is in the simple elegance of its sound. But it’s how carefully and complementary that music can cradle the heartache and road-worn realism of the lyrics that will determine the success of a song or album.

Amy Rude’s latest collection of songs has an exquisite match between musical performance and the spirited, honest lyrics. At turns old-timey, honky-tonk or rowdy, the songs bounce around country, blues and rock with ease. And Rude’s songwriting is typically restless, acknowledging sadness with a “what’s next?” approach.

Rude’s band Heartbeast is a well-traveled and expert bunch: Naim Amor on guitar, Thøger Lund and Chris Black on bass, Arthur Vint on drums and Vicki Brown on violin. Recorded by Jim Waters at Waterworks, the album is crisp and lively, bristling with electricity yet clear enough in sound to achieve a balance that benefits each instrument, with the metallic ringing of Rude’s and Amor’s guitars never obscuring the soft brush of a snare drum or violin flutter.

But throughout the record, Rude’s voice is the versatile star, country-sweet at times, rock ‘n’ roll edgy at others, with enough crackling emotion and wistful swoops to mold itself just right for the blues.

Opener “Ain’t That Funny” is full of lovelorn ache – “Where’s that we I was hoping we could be?” Rude sings – while “Bloody Eye” has a boozy shuffle that matches the bar fight story. “The Stump of Love” captures the frontier of old Memphis, when country-blues was stretching its own boundaries, ready to burst into rock ‘n’ roll. Next, the instrumental “Lemontooth Blues” simply turns everything up a notch.

The title song, a five-minute tear-jerker, is the emotional core of the record, vulnerable, wounded and defiant all at once. It’s a ballad of loneliness that turns its own sing-along chorus into the pick-yourself-back-up antidote.

“Cement Summer” brings the album its proper close, with a two-minute monsoon burst of guitars and violin that roar with intensity before fading quietly, lingering in the cool, humid calm.

Published April 1, 2011 in Zócalo.

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Eric Swedlund is a writer, photographer and editor living in Tucson, Arizona. His music writing has appeared regularly in the Tucson Weekly, Phoenix New Times, East Bay Express, The Rumpus and Souciant Magazine.

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