The Daily Vault digs “Paradise City”

Maybe the most interesting part about the musical descriptor “a cross between Paul Westerberg and Lucinda Williams” is that both artists remain alive and well and making music, so a collaboration wouldn’t be out of the question. In the meantime, though, let’s not waste the opportunity to be surprised by others attempting to locate that potentially rather magical musical intersection between literate singer-songwriter country-rock and boozy, foot-stomping alternative rock.

Mick Rhodes & The Hard Eight are a Los Angeles quintet that appears bound and determined to ply their trade in that heretofore imaginary Williams-Westerberg nexus, and does a damned respectable job at it. Punk-turned-roots-rocker (and singer-songwriter) Rhodes has a clear vision that the band behind him—Wyman Reese (keyboards, production), Brian Wells (drums), John Sleeger (bass) and Steve Strugis (background vocals)—is more than a capable of bringing to life.

Said vision includes everything from honky-tonk rock (“Since You” and “Under The Bustle”), to delicate country ballads (“Don’t Remind Me”), to punky three-chord power pop (“Keep It Simple”). Each of these thoughtfully arranged tunes approaches Rhodes’ tunes from a slightly different perspective.

Leading off, “Married Girls” features a rockabilly heart, a big fuzz guitar, and some sound life advice (“Don’t fall in love with a married girl”), before “Since You” delivers some fine, fine honky tonk, with fat guitars, barrelhouse piano, three-part harmonies, sassy horns, and a big, bluesy solo by since-departed Hard Eight lead guitarist Brian Hall.

“Last Summer” pairs an anthemic heartland rock feel with a melancholy lyric (“It’s the last summer of your life”) that would make Tom Petty grin. The middle section of the album leans to the country side of the band, with “That Kind Of Love” executing a steady build from acoustic and pedal steel into a big-boned, full-band ballad postulating that imperfect love is better than none at all.

The slight, delicate “Don’t Remind Me” is a more traditional country ballad about the narrator wanting to be reminded of his “wicked selfish ways” that has a bit of a Jimmy Buffett feel to a lyric full of resigned self-knowledge. Contrasting nicely, “Keep It Simple” pays tribute to Rhodes’ punk roots with “Three chords and a point of view / pawn shop guitars and an attitude / Aww, keep it simple, baby” over a fat guitar hook.

Later on, “Whisky Girl” offers a moody character sketch heavy on Wyman Reese’s organ and big harmonies, with strong tension between its brooding verses and booming choruses that reminds of classic Petty or Black Crowes. For tongue-in-cheek nostalgia, it’s hard to beat “Heavy Metal Heyday” (“Workin’ so hard to look run down… You weren’t in the band / but you were on the guest list”), about looking back to your partying days from the front seat of a minivan full of kids. Closer “Go To The Love” turns matters serious again, a soulful tune about battling addiction, featuring rich harmonies over a spacious arrangement.

Rhodes’ vocals and lyrics have a kind of everyman charm; neither could really be termed exceptional, but whatever he occasionally lacks in polish, Rhodes more than makes up for with heart and sincerity on these smartly arranged, powerfully performed tunes. Paradise City finds Mick Rhodes not just walking a tightrope between bar-band roots rock and literate country-folk, but falling off to one side or the other again and again before hopping right back up on the wire.

Rating: B+