Country folks sure like their red dirt. Woody Guthrie practically sanctified the stuff during the dust-bowl era; Emmylou Harris and Brooks & Dunn issued semi-concept albums with Red Dirt Girl and Red Dirt Road, respectively; there's even a weekly Sunday-night broadcast from Stillwater, Oklahoma's KVOO called Red Dirt Radio that showcases the "red dirt sound," an indefinable blend of country, rock and folk that denizens of the Sooner State proudly claim as their own. For native Okies Jason Boland & the Stragglers, however, Stillwater's mystical topsoil also nourishes Texas swing and outlaw-style honky-tonk -- made all the more pleasing through dobro, fiddle, pedal steel and Boland's own rich baritone, which recalls Waylon Jennings. The band's third studio effort, Somewhere in the Middle, not only boasts Grammy-winning producer Lloyd Maines, but features collaborations with Stoney LaRue and Billy Joe Shaver. How blue is your collar? How red is your dirt? -- John La Briola
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