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Country

Nashville Outlaws

A Tribute to Motley Crue

[Big Machine/Motley records]

2.5 stars

Having lived through the 1980s, mostly as a teenager, I can’t help but find it anathema that a host of top current country hitmakers would be taking on the catalog of Motley Crue.

Motley Crue, after all, was then and still is emblematic of the hard-drinking hair-metal decade, when dudes looked like ladies, and ladies loved ‘em for it. The Motley guys played loud, partied hard and seemed to have sworn full allegiance to heavy, nihilistic rock and all its fringe benefits. You never pictured them partying with Garth Brooks, for example.

These days, however, when all of popular culture is beginning to look and sound like one great big mash-up, all bets are off. So the likes of Rascal Flatts, Florida Georgia Line, Big & Rich, Brantley Gilbert and Gretchen Wilson covering tattooed, metallic power-pop tunes penned by a bunch of (barely) reformed drug addicts seems almost natural.

Almost. It’s still pretty strange to hear Rascal Flatts covering “Kickstart My Heart,” and Wilson finding the hidden Lynyrd Skynyrd lurking within “Wild Side,” to say nothing of Lauren Jenkins’ just plain strange interpretation of the formerly evil and menacing metal throw-down “Looks That Kill.”

Oddly enough, it’s the artists who took the most liberties with the original Crue templates who fare best here. Leann Rimes brings a horn-laden sassiness to “Smokin’ in the Boys Room” that sounds far more Nancy Sinatra than it does hair-metal. And the Mavericks – completely unsurprisingly, as this group is quite likely the most adventurous country band of the past 20 years – turn “Dr. Feelgood” into a Latin-tinged rave-up.

One exception to the rule is the version of “Live Wire” by relative newcomers the Cadillac Three - the band that stole the show at this summer’s WYRK Taste of Country. These guys bring an early ZZ Top-informed swampy groove to the table, sacrificing none of the original’s guitar fire, but infusing the tune with a heavy Southern rock vibe. It works.

Initial reports suggest that when the numbers come in early next week, this Crue tribute will be haunting the upper reaches of the Billboard Top 10. Which flies in the face of the fact that the collection lacks necessity, or any sense that “it had to happen.” But there you go. These are strange times.

- Jeff Miers