There's no question that Michael Perry's writing sparkles. The Population: 485 author's music and prose spring from the same place, where memories of a fundamentalist upbringing, adventures as a volunteer firefighter and conversations with the many small-town Wisconsin characters he's met along the way lead to lyrics that crackle with poetry and, at times, poignancy.
But it's not just music for book lovers. On his second album, Perry and his band prove why they're named after a type of truck, not a place to sleep: The music recalls many greats of country, including Waylon Jennings, Steve Earle and Johnny Cash.
The Long Beds get their twang on from the get-go with "Alice Mayhew Jackson," about a pistol of a woman who leaves her drunk husband and takes to the open road in his truck. At times, the melody recalls the Handsome Family's "Drunk By Noon," but the Long Beds' approach resembles that of John Prine more than the Handsome Family's murder balladeers Brett and Rennie Sparks.
The third track, "If They Give You Wings," is where Perry, like Rennie, shows off his literary chops, integrating a line by poet Dylan Thomas into a wistful country ballad: "Do not go gentle into that good night / Do not go down without a fight / Don't look for angels where drunkards will do / Don't look for me inside of you."
"Somewhere South of Sunday" highlights the band's bluegrass leanings, with fiery fiddling and banjo lines fit for rocky rambles from one dairy farm to another. "Sweet Edge of Time" creeps into Dave Rawlings Machine territory, with more banjo and fabulous vocal harmonies.