Laying it on the Line

Few singer/songwriters honor the heart-wrenching, classic country-music tradition like Orange County's own Patty Booker. Wounded yet fearless, the resilient Booker and her crack band play with a raw grit and soulful, smoldering edge—the kind that can be summed up by these timeless words (co-written with Rick Shea, the ex-Dave Alvin singer/songwriter/guitarist) from "The Hell That I've Been Thru": "I pulled back the trigger, I had you both in range/Then it flashed before me, What was I to gain?"

Yes, since releasing her 1999 debut, I Don't Need All That, brutal honesty has defined Booker's art. So beware ex-lovers: She will rightly call you on your shit! Booker next teamed up with Shea for an album of vintage, West Coast honky-tonk duets on the 2003 masterpiece Our Shangri-La. A string of brilliant albums continues with her new Fire & Brimstone, a twangy, bluesy yet life-affirming slice of rich Americana. Tales of lust, longing and betrayal have rarely felt and sounded so good, with Booker's Loretta Lynn-like vocals expressing every ounce of emotional tumult one can possibly muster.

The Oklahoma-bred Booker may lament love lost, but she never loses hope. In fact, she eloquently closes Fire & Brimstone with "Who Would I Be," a yearning yet upbeat ballad co-written by frequent collaborator and friend Jann Browne. Whether happy or sad, Booker's story songs nourish the soul. They're simply slices of life, and despite the aches and pains, Booker does cherish hers.

Patty Booker & the Players at the Laguna Beach Sawdust Festival, 935 Laguna Canyon Rd., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-3030; Thurs., Aug. 30, 5:30-9:45 p.m. $7. All ages; also at Cook's Corner, 19152 Santiago Canyon Rd., Trabuco Canyon, (949) 858-0266; Aug. 31, 8:30 p.m. Call for cover. 21+.


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