Despite its insurgent airs, alt-country tends to value sturdiness over innovation. There’s nothing wrong with that, as former Jets to Brazil bassist Jeremy Chatelain knows well. He founded Cub Country a decade ago as a side project and has been periodically slipping into it like a worn-in robe ever since. Arriving five years after the revolving-cast band’s last album, Stay Poor.Stay Happy, this third disc takes its slightly morbid name from a Jack Kerouac line. While not much of a departure, it rocks a bit more than previous outings.
Chatelain summons country by way of Neil Young and early Wilco; Young is mentioned on the poignant “Smith-Level,” which also boasts a strong guitar solo four minutes into the track. “Painted Flowers” looks wisely to the Byrds for guidance, while “Lone Tall Pines” lives up to its plaintive title and “After the Song’s Been Sung” lets loose with a decidedly crunchier hook. The backing players are all solid, with Kathryne Youkstetter’s vocals and Brent Dreiling’s pedal steel adding subtle yet valuable layers. Youkstetter sings lead over piano on “The Stars Drip Down,” making for a pleasant finish to the album.
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At 51 minutes, Stretch That Skull Cover and Smile is longer than it needs to be. That said, there are lasting rewards trailing each song, and Chatelain’s romantic streak shines sweetly through on “A Northern Passage.” Cub Country still aren’t the ideal comfort food for most Jets to Brazil fans, but Chatelain clearly has a knack for meat-and-potatoes Americana. That makes the band right at home on the Bay Area label Future Farmer, which has released records by Jackpot, Granfaloon Bus and other overlooked acts who continue to fan the genre’s modest embers.