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Highway 101

Big Sky – 2000 (Freefalls Entertainment)

Reviewed by John Lupton

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CDs by Highway 101

When they debuted on Warner in 1987, Highway 101 managed the neat trick of appealing to both the country purists and to the emerging crowd of country fans who liked a rock-and-roll edge to their music. They were loud and raucous, but their material was gut-wrenching, pedal steel-laced honky-tonk classics like "Cry, Cry, Cry" and "The Bed You Made For Me." At the core of the sound, of course, were the white-hot, roadhouse jukebox-style vocals of Paulette Carlson, described by more than a few critics and reviewers as country's answer to Stevie Nicks. Carlson left the band for a solo career after three albums, briefly reunited with them, then left again. This new release finds drummer Cactus Moser and bassist Curtis Stone as the sole remaining original members, with Charlie White on guitar and Chrislynn Lee as lead vocalist.

Does this carry the "classic" Highway 101 sound? Nope, not really even close. The arrangements are heavily skewed to rock, there's nary a pedal steel lick to be heard and only a whisper or two of fiddle. Lee is a solid, competent singer whose voice has a little bit of an interesting edge, but no one will ever mistake her for Carlson. To her credit, she doesn't try to be anyone else.

Having said that, those who managed not to have heard Highway 101 in the last 15 years may find this to be a country rock album that's better than average with songs (most co-written by Moser, Stone and White) also a cut above those coming out of the Nashville song mill these days. If looking for a time-warp ride back to 1987, though, you're probably better off waiting for another car.