The late 1990’s may have been the golden era of alt. country. We had Son Volt’s Trace and Lucinda Williams’ Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. Steve Earle was having a post prison career renaissance, the Old 97’s were signing with a major label, and Wilco was teaming up with Billy Bragg on unrecorded Woody Guthrie lyrics. But perhaps more importantly, alt. country was being revitalized by a couple of bands out of Raleigh, NC. One of those bands was the Chip Robinson led Backsliders. Like contemporaries and fellow Raleigh alums Whiskeytown, there was a punk rock urgency to the Backsliders that had largely disappeared from the alternative country scene. The Backsliders may have had a bit more honky tonk in their blood steam than the Ryan Adams fronted Whiskeytown, but they had every bit as much frenetic energy. Both bands disbanded around 2000 with the Backsliders signing off with 1999’s Southern Lines and Whiskeytown’s Pneumonia eventually saw the light of day in 2001.
In the decade that followed, we have almost a dozen records from Ryan Adams, though the output seldom rises to the quality of his former band’s catalog. Robinson on the other hand (as far as I know) has put out no new music and largely disappeared from the alt. country scene…..until now. Mylow is his solo debut out on Red River Records. Though it has moments of Backsliders like honky tonk rock and roll, it also reaches deeper into a more gothic-americana vibe on the album openers “Preface” and “Wings”. Taken as a whole Mylow seems to make it obvious that this isn’t the same Chip Robinson from the Backsliders. The intervening 10 years has had some effect, and particularly on the slower songs there is a rough wistfulness that suggests a vulnerability that the Backsliders never touched on. All that being said, Mylow has a couple of twang and roll classics that sound like they’re from straight out of the Backsliders back catalog such as “Bee Sting”, “Kutschy Rye”, and the title track.
Mylow might not be able to save alt. country from its oft reported death, but it’s a living breathing reminder that there is still a pulse. And perhaps with the prodigal son returning, we might just have a fighting chance after all.
Here is Chip and co-horts doing an old Backsliders tune…
RIYL: Steve Earle, Whiskeytown, barn burning and song swapping
About the author: Specializes in Dead, Drunk, and Nakedness..... Former College Radio DJ and Current Craft Beer Nerd