BR5-49's Sound Captured Live On Coast To Coast

Modern country band plies honky-tonk style, without overdubs, for new album.

A live BR5-49 show can be like a trip to a smoky honky-tonk, where the beer is cold, the neon lights are bright and the music digs deep into the roots of country and western.

With the April 4 release of Coast to Coast, the band's fans will be able to take that experience home with them via a live project recorded last summer while the band was on tour with the Brian Setzer Orchestra. It will be BR5-49's fourth Arista/Nashville release.

"We did this mostly for our fans, just to have some stuff out there," Chuck Mead, of BR5-49, said. "There are a few new songs on there, along with stuff we haven't done very often, along with things people really like to hear live.

"The main motivation was to keep all of our fans interested in what we're doing. We're still out there humping the road, coming to your town and making sure the party is there."

BR5-49 are well known for having a vibrant live show. The band is almost single-handedly credited with reviving Nashville's waning Lower Broadway music scene with a series of performances at Robert's Western Wear, a combination western-wear store and bar that served as BR5-49's home before they signed with Arista.

In 1996, Mead and BR5-49 bandmates "Hawk" Shaw Wilson, Gary Bennett, Smilin' Jay McDowell and Donny Herron made their major-label bow with the appropriately titled EP, Live From Robert's. Since then, the group has released a self-titled sophomore recording and their third album, Big Backyard Beat Show.

Scott Robinson, Arista/Nashville senior director of artist development, said the new album had a raw appeal that had made the band's live show a must-see event.

"It's not the most polished record, and that's not what we're shooting for," Robinson said. "This is not the Nashville-polished, high-production record. It's BR5-49, which is dirty, edgy and raw, which is what we love."

Coast to Coast combines new tunes such as "Tell Me Mama" (RealAudio excerpt), "Pourin' Pain," and "Waiting for the Axe to Fall" with well-worn favorites such as a cover of Charlie Daniels' "Uneasy Rider" and the BR5-49 concert staple "Even If It's Wrong" (RealAudio excerpt).

The songs were recorded in a variety of venues during the Setzer tour. BR5-49 enlisted producer Mike Clute, a veteran of Nashville's Music Row, to mix the project. "Clute did a great job and saved our ass in a couple spots without doing overdubs," Mead said.

After honing its skills at Robert's and then taking its act cross-country in support of its Arista projects, Mead says the band's musicianship has improved.

"[Last] summer, it was a culmination of really, really taking it seriously and becoming a lot better players and songwriters," he said. "When you take a little time and step back and see what you have done, it makes you more inspired to continue doing that ... in a way that doesn't drive you completely insane, which the road can do."

BR5-49 will be hitting the road again this spring and summer with promotional backing from a famed distillery.

Though life on the road has dominated BR5-49's career, they performed at Robert's several times while they were recently in town. "It's still a good street," Mead says of Broadway. "There are a lot of great pickers down there."