Red Star Belgrade Telescope

A ragged new offering from this Midwestern duo, or more accurately, multi-instrumentalist Bill Curry, whose songs mine the same slacker-country vein that has recently convinced far too many unworthy people that they can be witty observers of American pop culture. That may not be giving Curry enough credit, but Telescope's 12 glimpses into his damaged existence elicit few smiles and tears compared to the work of someone like Robbie Fulks or Todd Snider, who are true masters of incorporating contemporary irony into country music. Curry's shortcomings are painfully obvious in his choice to rework "Highway To Hell" as a country-punk stomper. On the surface it seems like a no-brainer, but I'm sure it was much more convincing when the Replacements undoubtedly took a drunken shot at it 15 years ago. Likewise, as a fan of the band I cringed at Curry's sappy homage, "Uncle Tupelo." Their debt has been repaid tenfold by the sheer numbers of better bands that have come before and since RSB. When Telescope works, it's instead because of Curry's earnestness. He does have a flair at describing the plight of society's victims, yet only from the perspective of an outsider. "After The Revolution" and "The Border" are touching tales of survival in war-torn Europe, but they ultimately can't carry the rest of the album. A few more of these would have made all the difference. (Checkered Past)