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By Peter Margasak

Friday 2/25, Schubas

Johnny Dilks

Bay Area country singer Johnny Dilks is obsessed with music that had its heyday more than two decades before he was born, but his 1999 debut, Acres of Heartache (HMG), is marked by a restraint that sets him apart from the mawkish revivalists who cover the same turf. And though he and his band wear retro duds and lavish attention on the stylistic flourishes--from the Sons of the Pioneers harmonies on the title track to the Louvin-esque beauty of the harmonies on "Close but So Far Away"--their seamless mix of bristling honky-tonk, western swing, and proto-rockabilly is more than a museum-quality reproduction. Dilks sings with a heavy nasal twang that channels Hank Williams via Austin roots rocker Wayne Hancock, but when he lets loose on "Yodel Till I Turn Blue" his friendly gruffness evaporates in transcendent fluidity. His repertoire also favors an appealing black humor, from his cover of the cold-war novelty "Stalin Kicked the Bucket" to his own "Comin' on Thru," where a jealous lover turns to comic book violence ("She's got her arms wrapped round some guy / Who doesn't know he's about to die / I'm gonna hit him with my old crowbar"), to "California," a musical travel brochure that plugs the state's hedonistic population rather than its natural beauty. And even if Dilks didn't have the songs, the skillful fiddling and steel guitar of Brian Godchaux and Billy Wilson would be reason enough to check out the band.

Copyright 2000 Chicago Reader Inc.

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