How boys who grew up a few miles from each other in the County wound up making a record together in Nashville is one of those vagaries of the music business that will never make sense. But you add up Travis James Humphrey’s killer country-twang vocals and Johnny Hiland’s ripping guitar solos and you get yourself a pretty dang listenable pop country album in Dirty Beautiful World, Humphrey’s third solo release.
Hopefully, you know Hiland’s story — a blind kid out of Woodland, Maine, who was playing guitar professionally by age 8 and is now a respected and in-demand session musician in Nashville. Maybe you don’t know Humphrey’s story. He was an American Boychoir School member as a kid, despite being from Houlton, singing backup for the likes of Aretha Franklin, and then found himself fronting the Air Force’s country band, Silver Wings, before getting out and striking up a solo career.
Now Hiland and Humphrey have come together on an album that’s about as pop-country as you can get, with up-beat tunes that just about conjure Humphrey’s smile floating in front of your eyeballs and ballads that are swimming in drinking references.
To be honest, after hearing the opening “Back End of the Rainbow,” I didn’t think I’d be able to finish the disc, let alone listen enough to actually review the thing. Among the opening lines? “The people are nice, and the only time you see ice is floating in your mo-ji-to.” He even does that Shania Twain, talking mid-song thing.
But Humphrey sings like nobody’s business and I was glad I made it to “New Day,” where he delivers a killer chorus and he walks the line between country and rock nicely. Plus, Hiland, who plays all of the instruments but drums here, is a house afire. Just about every tune has guitar work — either acoustic or electric — that makes you sit up and take notice.
It’s a genre piece, no doubt. The album contains all kinds of lines like “you like me, but you love Jack Daniel’s.” But if you have any inclination toward country whatsoever you pretty much have to pick this album up.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
DIRTY BEAUTIFUL WORLD | Released by Travis James Humphrey | on Pickers Pride Records | at Dogfish Bar and Grille, in Portland | May 14 |www.travisjameshumphrey.com