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The Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash
Sat. Nov. 12
8 p.m.
$10, $8 (adv.)
Village Tavern
1055 Johnnie Dodds Blvd.
884-6311
www.village-tavern.com

They’re the Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash, if only in the figurative sense. Listening to the San Diego band’s latest album, Mile Markers, is like chowing down at a buffet where all the food’s made from the same basic ingredient, but there’s an individual touch to set each particular dish apart (just go along with it).

At the risk of over-extending a metaphor, The Bastard Sons aren’t buffet magnates or restaurateurs. They do play legitimate country music and, though you can’t eat it, you sure can cry, dance, and most people with honest, average bad luck can relate to it. Chief Bastard Son Mark Stuart must’ve taken a nice long soak in it, because his love of the common man’s art form is highly evident in the Bastards’ latest batch of songs. Their playing has gotten more solid, jumping from jittery honky-tonk to soft balladry to blazing Telecaster rock. The singing’s not too bad, either.

When Stuart put the first incarnation of the band together in 1995, there really wasn’t too much about them that stood out besides the name. However, with three albums, a few hundred shows, and a few band members less than that behind him, things appear to be coming along nicely. The Bastard Sons’ current lineup features Stuart on vocals, pedal steel player Greg Leisz, bassist Taras Prodaniuk, guitarist Mike Turner, and drummer Dave Raven.

Some of the songs from Mile Markers, like “Borderline of the Heart” and “Road To Bakersfield,” recall such ’70s country/rockers as Pure Prairie League, while others, like “No Easy Road,” have both feet planted firmly in the old beer joint. Very few are aimless drinking or divorce songs. None are I-love-you-even-though-you-kicked-my-ass-and-took-the-kids songs. “Austin Nights,” rather, pays tribute to that town’s wily community of singer-songwriters as Stuart sings “They played a song from Letter to Laredo / Just like it was nothing at all / And I had to stop right in my tracks and wonder/ ‘Cause they don’t play Joe Ely where I’m from.”

They don’t play him where I’m from, either, and little thrills like that bring life to Stuart’s music as he is, apparently, an unabashed country music geek (a geek in the most respectful context, of course). He’s right, though. Hearing Joe Ely on the radio in Austin is more memorable than hearing Toby Keith on the dial in Nashville.

When you name your band The Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash, you’ve basically volunteered to catch a certain amount of grief along the way. The homage, though, was born out of the best intentions, and Cash actually gave the band his approval shortly after learning of them. In truth, they don’t really sound like, look like, or even dress that much like Cash. Without Cash’s genre-melding, built-in perseverance and strident middle finger, though, Stuart might’ve ended up being that guy casing the Jell-O molds down at your local buffet. And, for that, much respect has been paid.