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Country, SoCal style

Love May Take the Long Road Home
Love May Take the Long Road Home
By the Mark Jackson Band

Long Road Records: 2005

Buy it now

Halfway to Someday
Halfway to Someday
By the Shadowdogs

Self-released: 2005

Buy it now

This review first appeared in the Winter 2004 issue of Turbula.

Hailing from the (usually) sun-soaked hills of San Diego, the Mark Jackson Band is about as far as you can get from Nashville and still be in the continental United States.

And yet, MJB's newest album (set for a record release party 7 p.m. Saturday at Acoustic Expressions in San Diego), is more deeply steeped in country traditions than most anything coming out of Music City these days.

In its straight-ahead approach to country music minus the frills and window dressing, the Mark Jackson Band reminds of old-school musicians like Waylon Jennings or George Strait. With Jackson's smooth singing voice and a sound built around traditional acoustic instruments, the band is somewhere between traditionalists like Ricky Skaggs and the more modern newgrass acts like Nickel Creek.

But what is going to keep "Love May Take the Long Road Home" in your CD player spin after spin is the collection of great songs found on it. From the opening cover of "Two Hearts" (written by Fallbrook's Bruce FitzSimmons) through Jackson's own songs like "I'm Sorry (For Making You Feel Like I Do)," "I Wanna Listen To A Love Song" and the title track, this album is full of little gems you won't be able to get out of your head.

North County's Shadowdogs have a great new collection of songs on their upcoming CD; they play those songs with virtuosity and a sense of fun, and the band has some of the warmest vocal harmonies you'll ever hear.

The challenge?

Finding a niche for their music in today's radio formats.

Broadly classified as Americana, Shadowdogs is more country than most bands found under that banner. But they're too rock for a country station.

Like Poco, the Shadowdogs inhabit the mellow side of country-rock. Not quite as mellow as Pure Prairie League, the Shadowdogs can bring a bit of muscle to their music. And on some songs, like "Best of Me," they even sport an updated alt-country-rock sound not so far from, say, Widespread Panic.

Fallbrook's Bruce FitzSimmons (lead vocals, guitar) is a wonderfully melodic songwriter. If we still had Top 40 and/or AOR FM radio stations like we did when Poco was popular, "Abilene" would be all over the radio. But FitzSimmons (who had his song "Two Hearts" covered by San Diego's Mark Jackson Band on their new CD) is only part of what makes the Shadowdogs so alluring. Franklin Jenkins also knows how to turn out hook-laden tunes ("Open Road" is every bit as radio-friendly as "Abilene"), provides the lush vocal harmonies to FitzSimmons, and can also take on lead vocals.

The entire band plays with confidence but not arrogance. Tasty guitar solos, a rock-solid backbeat and intriguing interplay lend a touch of the Allman Bros. to this release.