When yet another bunch of punks decides to put on the twang, you'd be justified in expecting the insolence of Southern Culture on the Skids or the rank incompetence of Dash Rip Rock; with luck, you might get a swell bar band such as the Waco Brothers. Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys, on the other hand, defy expectations, not just by taking country music seriously but by coming perilously close to mastering it. In the mid-'90s, Hobart fronted the noisy Kansas City rock band Giant's Chair and then hit the lost highway without looking back. His latest effort, The Spectacular Sadness of Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys, is easily the hardest country album Bloodshot has ever released and probably the most memorable collection of honky-tonk songwriting since Robbie Fulks' Country Love Songs."Funny how forever always ends," Hobart moans alone on the first cut, and then the band snaps into place, with pedal-steel and Telecaster licks ricocheting off each other without overpowering the saddle-tight, shuffling rhythm. Hobart's voice is somewhere between baritone and beneath-the-barstool; what he lacks in range, he makes up for in phrasing. He savors the sorrow of every languid syllable and deadpans the nascent dread of such lines as "Here comes nothing, and she's lookin' pretty good." That's Hobart's peculiar country genius: He makes you believe that losing love just might mean losing your soul. Every neon sign in every two-bit bar seems to flash a single word -- NOTHING -- and what appears to be conventional honky-tonk melancholy is really the deepest existential doubt. "Love means nothing to a young man," the young man sings. "It's OK when you said you loved me, I never believed you anyway." Looking for a good old country time? Wait for the next BR5-49 costume ball. Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys are gonna bring you down, but you'll love every heartbreaking lick and line.