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Slew's Next

A Wash. U. grad, a legend and some Missouri shitkickers team up to form a great little label

The Kings' status as pickup-band refugees changed, as it once upon a time did for country musicians, because of a contest. "We won Star Search," says Newman, cringing.

"I want to go on record," Gallier cuts in, "as saying that was before I joined the band."

"We played one song," Newman continues, "and they put us out for being too loud. But we won. That was fall of '97. We won some studio time out in Knoxville. They treated us like we were trying to buy beer with food stamps. And it sounded terrible. It wasn't us. So we just decided to stay at home with Lou Whitney. We told him how we wanted it to sound, and he'd say, 'You mean like this?' He'd turn some knob, and all of a sudden it was there. "

On Life & 20, Whitney's knob-turning captures a near-perfect balance between the belting voice of Newman, the Marty Robbins-like croon of Capp and the Kings' stripped-to-sinew, back-to-the-country sound. "We didn't start out to be a retro anything or a scene-maker band," Newman stresses.

Jinnings adds: "None of us sits down to say, 'Let's write something that sounds like Johnny Horton. That's just one influence."

Though detectable, those influences never usurp the Kings' vision, in which country music, as an ingenuous vehicle of pure emotion, thrives in a cynical and clinical musical culture. "They're staying away in herds," Newman says of the band's chances at mainstream acceptance. "We have nothing against Nashville; we're not Nashville-bashing. We're not out there trying to buck the system. We're not even part of it. There's no point in getting caught up in the art of being a rebel. Nobody down there's paying attention anyway."

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