Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now
Kansas City’s Rex Hobart & the Misery Boys play it straight and great.
On Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys’ new Empty House, the hope of “The Good Ain’t Gone” is counterpoised to the despair of “Every Night I Leave You in My Mind,” the cruelty of “It Won’t Be Long (And I’ll Be Hating You)” to the sensitivity of “I Just Lost My Mind.” The music speaks volumes; with an artist of Hobart’s caliber, complexity binds a seemingly simple package.
Rex Hobart works in a direct, classic, honky-tonk manner. As plain as an Alan Jackson, but as rich and ominous as the Johnny Paycheck he covers in “Hating You,” Hobart also brings to mind the frankness of George Jones, the brutal honesty of Merle Haggard, and even the wobbly logic of Kris Kristofferson. He displays depth and skill in telling mournful tales of loves lost, chances missed, and melancholy’s triumphance.
Helping to express the tragic in the everyday, T.C. Dobbs’ heart-stutter drums, Blackjack Snow’s plodding bass, J.B. Morris’ communicative guitar, and Solomon Hofer’s atmospheric pedal steel and dobro are the solid, sensitive, appropriately-named Misery Boys. No kitsch, put-on, or flirtation with darkness, Hobart is all about the tune, not the persona, the music, not the image...dealing with the grief, not denial.
Stories figure heavily throughout Empty House in disarmingly honest tunes like the crisply rendered “I Don’t Like that Mirror,” a lament on a trip taken to see how an ex fares after a blown chance. In psychology, what he experiences is referred to as projection. To Hobart, a more real, brutally honest perspective is to curse himself as a “fool who aimed to kill love/because he couldn’t feel love/...now he does.”
Other tunes find old Rex (truly sounding like a close friend the moment the album begins) in a variety of places but in a consistent mood. Witness Hobart confiding to a bartender that he has a “Heartache to Hide,” backed by the most seductive hook this side of Clint Black. The song is every bit as catchy, but more akin to the gold that dross rubbed off of, more in line with Buck than Brooks.
Rex Hobart sounds accomplished for having merely four albums under his belt. In addition to bringing a soulful new voice to a rock-solid old form, he has obviously learned a thing or two along the way while earning opening slots for Junior Brown, Fugazi, Ween, and David Allen Coe. Hobart and the boys have been nominated for band of the year, best musician, and best male vocalist for the Kansas City Lawrence-Area Music Awards. Chicago’s Bloodshot must feel proud to house his estimable talents. More to come, for Empty House marks a triumph for Hobart, his band, and country music as a whole.
Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys Empty House 9.3/10, released 2/22/05. www.rexhobart.com.
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