Honky-tonk band the Domino Kings hails from Springfield, Mo., which shouldn't surprise anybody, given that town's history of country music. The Ozark Jubilee started there, and legendary rockabilly Ronnie Self (remember "Bop a Lena"?) died there in 1981. In his Springfield studio, Lou Whitney continues to produce consistently strong left-of-Nashville records, and he's done it again with the Domino Kings' latest, Life and 20
. Like the Derailers or Big Sandy, the Kings take their honky-tonk seriously, writing original songs on classic themes -- betrayal, regret, moral decline -- but they're not just slumming through country's badlands. In the supple voices of guitarist Steve Dawson and bassist Brian Capps, songs like "Borrow a Lie," "Deep and Black" and the murder-ballad title track cut deeply to a complex human core. Within the strict confines of a country shuffle or a stripped-down waltz, and with the simple instrumentation of bass, drums and guitar, the trio manage as much musical discovery as the most ambitious pop band. They know how to write a Cash- or Haggard-like hook, but that's not why their music matters. The Domino Kings aren't about country exercise; they're about country emotion.