What is real country music? That’s a question almost guaranteed to spark a fight. Almost like asking what Americana is.

But it’s a question I ask myself whenever I fall upon a radio station playing mainstream Nashville country. I can’t seem to get more than half dozen songs into it before I have to switch to something else.

The playing is more than proficient. The voices are pleasant enough. The melodies are hummable. But there’s a lack of authenticity, a sense of pandering to the crowd, as if those masses of folks in the suburbs will switch the dial if there isn’t a steady stream of faux patriotism, stereotyped religiosity and a sense that kids in the sticks don’t do anything but sit around fires by the crick at night drinking PBRs.

All of which is a way of backing into the fact that Uncle Ben’s Remedy’s new album, “Let It Not Be Lost,” is nothing like that. Nor is Kody & Herren’s debut disk, “Till the Sun Will Rise.”

I can’t claim total objectivity in this review. I’ve known Nick Kody’s dad, Steve, since elementary school, and Nick has covered (and some might say, uh, improved) a couple of my songs. Singer and fiddler/violinist Lydia Herren is the other half of the duet.

And both Kody and Uncle Ben’s Remedy have their roots where I also come from – on the Cattaraugus side of the creek dividing Erie and Cattaraugus counties (Kody in West Valley and UBR – as they’re usually known – in Versailles).

You can tell because there’s a sense of roots that you rarely find on commercial country. For UBR, it’s a sense of “this is where we’re from, and damn right, this is how we’re gonna have fun.” The band has survived long enough that some of the rougher edges of excess have been worn off, but they still celebrate it.

UBR during their album release show in March.

On “Let It Not Be Lost,” that means celebrating first loves on the “Graviton,” the carnival ride “put together by meth heads, but we don’t mind.” Or paying tribute to the “Best Old Lady,” who’ll “let me fish all night under the bridge … let’s me keep my nightcrawlers in the fridge.”

The sense of humor is pure country, a kind of frank look at life that doesn’t shy away from the characters’ flaws or get too sanctimonious.

The band can get a little serious, though, on songs like “Where Does the Time Go,” which ends with the lines “My Nanie used told me, you can always count on family. Then I wake one day and see my whole family’s counting on me.” Yeah, the guys from this band have survived long enough to hit middle age.

The playing is typical UBR good — with Ben Westlund as lead singer and storyteller, the omnipresent Harmony Griffin on guitar, Shawn Hustis on keyboards, Brendan O’Connor on bass and Jim Royce on drums — and the recording at GCR is stellar. It’s available on LP as well as CD and on streaming platforms.

Kody and Herren recorded at GCR, too, but they’re going in a different direction. Kody has been recording since he was a teenager and pursued his love of southern rock (he still rocks the Ronnie Van Zant look). But on the new album, which will see its official release with a show on May 20 at Art’s Cafe  (part of the Springville Center for the Arts organization), the songs and the sound are a little sweeter.

With this CD, he changes direction in what is a partnership in every way with Herren. Kody has always had a good voice and played great guitar, but with Herren he has found a great clear voice and a counterpoint on fiddle.

There’s a sense that this is just the start of the couple’s search for their sound, but what a start. The first song, “Choose My Own Heartbreak,” opens like something recorded at Muscle Shoals in the early ’70s before Herren’s voice breaks in and eventually the harmonies and even some horns.

The album is, not surprisingly, filled with great harmonies, and the duet “I’ll Sing for You” sounds like a song that should be played for weddings and anniversary celebrations for years go come.

In addition to her vocal and instrumental talents, Herren also seems to bring a bit of folk/bluegrass feel to the proceedings, but there are also some cool surprises in the album’s sound – like the sousaphone popping up to fill in for bass on several songs.

But at it’s heart, “Till the Sun Will Rise” is an album of love songs that sounds like the start of a great partnership.

What’s the link between the new albums from UBR and Kody & Herren? Both feel totally authentic with music that doesn’t seem like it’s trying to pretend it’s something it’s not.  And that’s the kind of country I can listen to.

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If you want to find out more about Kody & Herren, they’ll be guests on Rockabilly Greg’s podcast, “In the Flamingo Lounge,” in an episode debuting on May 14. You can find it HERE once it goes live.

The Editor

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