On Stubborn, Tommy Womack's fine followup to his remarkable 1998 debut, Positively Na Na, every last thrilling lick and inflection is wholly received. "She Likes to Talk," for instance, sounds like Keith Richards singing the best Paul Westerberg song in a decade; elsewhere, folk and blues caricatures and other Americana motifs are delivered via Chuck Berry riffs, Beatlesque melodies and bar-band boogie. You've danced to it all before, but coming from someone with Womack's skill and wit, this is hardly a bad thing. His palate of sounds is familiar, but it usually manages to arrive fresh, thanks to the details and uniquely grim worldview of his stories. Arriving something like an American version of Canada's Fred Eaglesmith but with his amps cranked and a sense of humor, Womack presents isolated women and men who mostly fume with impotent threats at dangers that aren't impotent at all and lives that are as limited as the number of rock guitar riffs.
Endings on Stubborn are frequently violent, happy only in the sense that they could have been so much worse: "Willie Purdue" is a gentle soul with a future, but he got the shit kicked out of him and now just wanders around downtown; a domestic abuser is stopped with a ball-peen hammer; a woman finds herself alone and "Going Nowhere," but at least she's alive to do it. The hope here -- what there is of it -- is almost exclusively in the way the guitars are still willing to scream their anger at the sky. This is good-time rock and roll, in other words, for some extremely bad times -- those dark nights of the soul when, as Womack sings, the moon don't shine, the truck don't run, and it's just a damn good thing you don't have a gun. -- David Cantwell