Imagine the Replacements suffering through sweltering Midwestern summer nights instead of cold Minnesota winters, and infused with a little less punk and a little more dirty twang, and you have Edwardsville's Kentucky Knife Fight. The band's debut EP (recorded live at the Stagger Inn) shows a lot of promise both in songwriting skills and live chops. The Wolf Crept, The Children Slept more than delivers on that promise: It's one of those records where everything just feels right, from the old-timey woodcut on the front cover (done by Matty Kleinberg of the Firecracker Press) to the sequencing of the songs. There is little fat but plenty of gristle, as "Lil' Sister" kicks off the disc with a dose of swaggering scuzz-rock that is as creepy as it is infectious. Not since Dylan's "Oh Sister" has incest sounded so good.
If you had to assign Kentucky Knife Fight a spot in the music-genre ghetto, alt-country would be its best fit. But while much of alt-country coasts on late-night confessions and early-morning regret, there is no such earnestness here. Singer Jason Holler's characters have no time for remorse and no use for sentimentality. The ramblin' man in "Herschel Walker" appreciates the gentle but fleeting mercies of a good woman before before hitting the road, telling her that he "can't make a living off of what you say." There's also a certain respect paid to outlaw country, as well over half of the thirteen tracks collected hear sound like they are straining to become the next "Radar Love." (That's not an insult.) Some instrumental nuances help round out the album; a barroom piano guides the sing-along "I Don't Mind," and the wheezy clarinet in "Got My Heaven" is equal parts Dixieland-swing and klezmer-stomp. It falls to Holler to sell the songs and take them from potential cliché into bleary-eyed oblivion. He succeeds with the aid of his bandmates, who draw from barroom blues, rural folk and hair metal and turn it into something sweaty and alive.
9 p.m. Saturday, October 25. Off Broadway, 3509 Lemp Avenue. $5. 314-773-3363.
Want your CD to be considered for a review in this space? Send music c/o The Riverfront Times, Attn: Homespun, 6358 Delmar Boulevard, Suite 200, St. Louis, MO 63130. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.