Rhode Island was founded as a dumping ground for criminals, no-goods, drunks and lunatics exiled from tony enclaves like Boston and New York. Like everything else, its musical legacy has been difficult to define. What the heck is Rhode Island music, anyway?
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The Blackstone Valley Sinners hope to include "country" in the answer. The traditionally flavored trio stars Slim Cessna, Denver's favorite gap-toothed, Bible-bearing country warbler -- and a perpetual member of the local music scene, even if only in spirit -- alongside lead guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Rich Gilbert and vocalist/bassist Judith Ann. The combo describes itself as "the number-one country band in all of Rhode Island," and the players' pedigrees suggest that status may be deserved: Cessna remains active with the Auto Club, of which Judith Ann is a current member, and Gilbert moonlights as a Catholic with Frank Black. It's a Sin, a wonderfully rustic romp through traditional Americana-style country-and-Western, suggests that this is no mere moonlighting project. Covers -- including Hank Williams's "Fraulein" and a jaunty take on Billy Mayhew's "It's a Sin to Tell a Lie" -- just barely outnumber original tunes penned by Cessna, Gilbert and even Jay Munly, whose muse surfaces on "Cranston Sinner." Sounding more moved by history than God or the devil on this outing, Cessna shines as always, with vocals that are tannic, sincere and swinging throughout. Wielding dobros, banjos, pianos, steel guitars and snappy percussion -- "Pawtucket Pickup" will dare you to dance -- the band proves itself as adept at slide-blues-influenced rave-ups as they are at tear-stained ballads. Our only problem with this recording is that we can't rightfully claim the Blackstone Sinners as our own. Slim, you come back now, you hear?