Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys 

Empty House (Bloodshot Records)

Rex Hobart and his boys traffic in human misery. It's not usually the grief caused by natural disasters or the problems of wealth inequity in our society. Nope, Hobart loves to sing about the misery at the end of loving relationships. The trick, four albums into his career, is to keep finding new ways to be unhappy.

He's done it again with Empty House. With the support of his crack band of subtly engaging musicians, Hobart conjures up scenarios of pain and suffering for our entertainment. His plan for self-improvement in "Let's Leave Me" encourages his lover to help him put his bad behavior into the past. "Heartache to Hide" tells the sad tale of being dumped by the woman with whom he's been cheating -- and feeling far more hurt by that than if he'd been caught by his wife. For "The Good Ain't Gone," Hobart even manages to make predictions of future happiness sound sad, since the narrator has used up so much of his love waiting for the shoe that never seems to drop.

Hobart has a strong, straightforward approach to his honky-tonk classicism. He just tells his stories, which are set to simple, eloquent melodies laced with delicate sprinklings of pedal steel and the occasional rumbling electric guitar. Working within the tight constraints of form and theme he's set up, Hobart has forged a distinctively pleasurable sound and style that seems likely to continue for years.

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