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Putting the cow in cowpunk

By Gary Heffern

Self-released: 2008

This review first appeared in the January 8, 2009 issue of the North County Times.

As lead singer for The Penetrators, San Diego's pre-eminent punk band of the late 1970s and early '80s, Gary Heffern was known for his energetic singing and stage presence.

Now living in Finland, Heffern's latest solo CD is every bit as immersed in country and roots music as was the post-Penetrators music of the band's drummer, the late Dan McClain – who went on to his fame as "Country Dick Montana" in the Beat Farmers and Pleasure Barons.

And while Heffern had a charismatic presence out front of the Penetrators, you couldn't really judge the purity of his singing voice in that environment. But on this set of country songs (including a haunting cover of Merle Travis' "Dark as a Dungeon"), you get Gary Heffern the country crooner – Gary Heffern, the musical descendant of George Jones, Willie Nelson and Ray Price, as filtered through a punk and modern chamber prism.

While his voice is fairly ragged around the edges, Heffern turns that to his advantage – laying his vocal imperfections out on the table for all to hear. On a song of regret and redemption like "Consolation," that physical vulnerability plays right into the emotional openness of the lyrics.

Heffern wrote nine of the songs here, and while all have a certain twang to them they range from the uptempo country swing of "Ghost on the Screen" to the country rock of "That's the Beauty of the Little Things" to the way-scaled-back art-rock of "First Kiss."

It's a bit uneven at times, but generally a fascinating listen.