THE WRIGHTS "The Wrights" ACR STEPHEN SIMMONS "Something in Between" Me + My

Friday, February 8, 2008

THE WRIGHTS"The Wrights"ACRSTEPHEN SIMMONS"Something in Between"Me + My

ARLO GUTHRIE ONCE told me that having a famous relative can open doors for you, but it can't help you once you step into the office. Being Alan Jackson's nephew surely opened doors for Adam Wright, but it's the singing and songwriting of Wright and his wife, Shannon, that has impressed executives and critics alike. The duo's major-label debut, 2005's "Down This Road," was a gem of classic-country duets in the tradition of Charlie and Ira Louvin or Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris. That it struck out on the charts says more about contemporary country radio than about the Wrights.

The duo's second album, "The Wrights," confirms the promise of that debut. Adam Wright has an appealing tenor, but Shannon Wright's exceptional soprano is the act's best weapon. When she laments that investing more energy in a failing relationship is like "Planting Flowers" on a gravel road, you can hear in her helpless ache that she's not ready to let go.

Stephen Simmons isn't related to anyone famous, but he sounds so much like Steve Earle that they could be nephew and uncle. That's not a bad thing, for not many singers achieve such a confident, full-bodied sound while delivering conversational confessions. Simmons's songwriting on his fourth album, "Something in Between," differs from Earle's in its emphasis on such classic country fare as broken marriages and drunken regrets. It's odd to hear those themes set against the Dylanesque folk-rock arrangements fueled by producer David Briggs's organ and Simmons's harmonica, but it works. The Nashville singer-songwriter never whines and always offers a clear-eyed assessment of his own failures and lingering hopes. Those hopes come to the fore on "New Scratches," a boast that he's sticking out a new relationship despite all the cuts and bruises.

-- Geoffrey Himes

Both appearing Saturday with Jason Eady at Iota (703-522-8340, Show starts at 5. Simmons and Eady appear Sunday at the Baltimore Chop (888-543-2467, Show starts at 8.

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