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Drew Kennedy

Dollar Theatre Movie – 2007 (Sustain)

Reviewed by Brian T. Atkinson

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CDs by Drew Kennedy

The first two tracks reflect the title dead-on - like dollar theatres, they're accessible but a crapshoot in quality. Both point to the bumpy, but occasionally thrilling ride that lies ahead.

Bad news first: The opening "The One To Blame" is a clinic in tired, contrived songwriting. Consider these flat lines - "You want to give her a call but the phone on the wall/Keeps mixing up a number or two." It's stumbling, calculated and faceless - and woefully misplaced as the introductory song.

Good news is that the thrusting "Ramblin' Heart" follows immediately and redeems Kennedy twofold. It's no surprise that the Texas-based singer thanks River Road Ice House in New Braunfels (45 miles south of Austin) in the liner notes - he excels at full-swagger country-rock that's a perfect fit for that rowdy off-the-map roadhouse. "I'm in the groove of a man on the move," Kennedy sings, and means it.

Elsewhere, in lines like that one - in other words, when he's not trying so hard - Kennedy is completely convincing with simple yet universal sentiments. Other high points include the first single "Take Me Home," which is lyrically and musically buoyant enough to land Kennedy on CMT, and the blue collar "Tomorrow's Not Tonight," which draws a direct line to Guitar Town-era Steve Earle.

There's too much park bench philosophizing - "Selling hope like pre-owned cars/It's new to you, old to them," Kennedy sings in the closing "Second Time Around" - to call this a success. But there's plenty of evidence that suggests Kennedy's next effort could be.