Big & Rich are throwing a party, and everybody is invited. With their genrehopping, fence-busting debut album, Horse Of A Different Color, the duo brings the most exciting new scene in Nashville to the rest of America - where people who listen to country music don't just listen to country music, where folks wear a John Deere hat and an Eminem T-shirt. With drinking songs and thinking songs, songs about the legends of the West and songs about the streets, Big & Rich play "country music without prejudice," echoing everything from honky tonk to rock 'n' rap, surrounded by a Wild Bunch-meets-the-Rat Pack posse called the Muzik Mafia. It's been a helluva long time since country has been this wild and this much fun.
Country music had no bigger story in 2004 than the rise of the Muzik Mafia, a renegade group of Music City misfits led by Big & Rich (Big Kenny Alphin and John Rich, the latter formerly of Lonestar
) and Gretchen Wilson
. Both acts shook up Nashville's lethargic, formulaic format--Wilson with her take-no-bull brand of redneck chic, and Big & Rich with their eclectic, wild-haired blend of honky-tonk, rock, rap, ballad, and western, the shoot-'em-up motif for their traveling circus, i.e., Wild West show. Their debut, Horse of a Different Color
, which showcases the pair's unusual high-low vocal harmony, is both funny and irreverent ("Kick My Ass"), not to mention clever. (They sing "bad word" in place of a rhyming epithet.) Boasting "music without prejudice" in their self-mythologizing "Rollin' (The Ballad of Big & Rich)," they reference Charley Pride
as "the man in black," and trot out country music's first African American rapper, Cowboy Troy. Yet race turns to "racy" in the duo's hit single "Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)," the disc's least interesting cut. The easy laugh and rapped stanzas overshadow the smarter lyrics on the rest of the record, which concerns itself not only with frontier justice, but, surprisingly, with old-time religion (Jesus, tolerance, and in a song about sexual abuse, "Holy Water"). Like many professional funny men, Big & Rich--accomplished songwriters and (now) producers--are dead serious beneath it all. Even if this horse opera of a novelty act doesn't last, look for them to shape much of what gallops out of Nashville for a good, long run. --Alanna Nash