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Rusty Romance, Who Brought The Fun? 

(Self-released, CD)

Central Vermont's Rusty Romance are a good old-fashioned, friendly Americana act. Led by Bill "Rusty" Fraser, the band delivers affable twang in the vein of John Hiatt, Buck Owens and Gram Parsons. Refreshing in its utter lack of pretension, their debut Who Brought the Fun? offers some charmingly sanguine sounds.

Recorded in a single seven-hour session at the Middlesex Town Hall, the album plays like a relaxed jam session amongst chums. The facts bear this out: Rusty Romance plowed through the 13 good-natured country-tinged tunes that comprise this disc with only Moxie and pizza to keep them going.

Opener "Triple R" bemoans the closing of a beloved watering hole, while subsequent track "Faith Healers is an elegant ballad featuring lovely mandolin work from "Dangerous" Dan Haley. "Two More Bottles of Wine" features the unvarnished vocals of Michelle Gardner. An ode to solitary boozing, the song features some tasty twin lead guitars that dance around a solid, blues-based bedrock.

"Guns, Beer & Wedding Gowns" has a delightfully antique sound that would be right at home in a shady Western juke joint. The tune tells the tale of two lowdown compadres on the hunt for female companionship. Let's just say their quest doesn't always go smoothly.

The band's cover of Patsy Cline's "Walking After Midnight" is merely adequate. Gardner doesn't have anything close to the nuance of the late, great singer. But then again, who does? Although the band's decision to play up the tempo is in keeping with the disc's vibe, it robs the song of its tragic underpinnings.

The group fares better on the sprightly "Simple Song," which was written and voiced by Haley. With its loping rhythms and pedal steel accompaniment, the tune is a warm-hearted, if frivolous, ditty. The sunny "Piña Colada Sunshine" sounds like something Bob Weir might write while relaxing on Jimmy Buffet's yacht.

"Old 63" features lap steel player Kevin "Bucky" Brown on lead vocals. Its tale of romantic loss is similar to Bob Dylan's heartbreak classic, "If You See Her." Of course, Dylan never mentioned the collapse of New Hampshire's Old Man in the Mountain in his tune.

Fiery closing track "We Brought the Fun" finds the whole gang chipping in to spread the cheer. As a good-time boogie, the song is solid. As a declaration of intent, it's perfect.

CASEY REA

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