JJ Baron is a consummate storyteller who weaves his tales around shimmering pedal steel and six-string acoustic. The singer’s debut album, Brand New Stranger, is packed with perceptive lyrics sung in a high lonesome voice that paints vivid pictures of hazy, smoke-filled juke-joints and backwater motels, populated by hard-drinking cowboys who have, more often than not, been done wrong by their honky-tonk women. It’s no surprise, then, that Hank Williams haunts this record (in a good way) and is explicitly evoked on the foot-stomping, title-track opener as his ghost goes driving by. Elsewhere on the record, a dubious Sheriff who’d “Plant something on a nun / Just to make a bust” (“Dead Man’s Shoes”) rubs shoulders with an outlaw on the run, who threatens “I’ll stain the walls of paradise / And I’m going to turn them red like hell” (“Now I Know”)—that’s if he ever gets his gun back. There’s even room for Slaid Cleaves to join the party for a duet on the bar-room blues ballad “Set ‘Em Up Boys”, before a beautfully simple mountain-melody, “Wildflower”, dedicated to the late great June Carter closes the album. Judging by the talent on display here, this 24 year-old resident of Austin, Texas, won’t be any type of stranger for long.
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