Happy Trails

As Cowboy Nation, former punk-rockers Chip and Tony Kinman (the Dils, Rank & File) reconnect with the primal drama of real cowboys. The brothers — accompanied by drummer Jamie Speidle — reinvigorate classic cowboy-folk tradition with spare acoustic arrangements, supple Everly-esque harmonies and a bracing lack of reverence for mythic convention. It's a combination that's ultimately more respectful of the trail-music tradition and its characters.

A Journey Out of Time is less haunting and more relaxed than the group's self-titled 1997 debut. Loosely structured around a traveling theme, it opens with an evocative harmonica riff then segues into a driving reinterpretation of Gene Autry's "Back in the Saddle" (RealAudio excerpt). Elsewhere, the loneliness at the core of the traditional "Blood on the Saddle" is heightened by the combination of a slowly loping arrangement and Tony Kinman's unusually low voice. Their prayerlike, faithful cover of "Shenandoah" (RealAudio excerpt) is beautifully simple.

"Two Miles to Town" (RealAudio excerpt) is a good example of how Cowboy Nation's originals sound like well-weathered trail anthems while introducing fresh elements into the genre. Played at a gleeful gallop, it's a frequently requested staple of the band's live shows.

Balancing the Kinmans' deep understanding of cowboy idioms is their command of pop craft, discernible in the deceptively easygoing "Way To Go" and especially on "Cut Above." Likewise, the earthy lyrics to "E-Z Ridin' Cowboy" roll along on a bluesy groove that's a refreshing contrast to the usual Bob Wills retreads crowding the cowboy music scene.