If you think of alternative country as some narrow, nostalgic, has-been style, a genre that only meant something when three guys from the East Side were playing it in Cicero's basement, you might want to pay close attention to Kristi Rose. Rose has been belting out a left-of-center brand of country in Nashville's Lower Broadway bars for years, fronting a band sometimes called the Handsome Strangers, sometimes Pulp Country. The latter name is just about right. This Is Pulp Country!
is Rose's first record with her current lineup, and the band's range is as dramatic and aggressive as its name. The sound can be cinematic -- moody, twangy guitar riding over a jazz-and-soul rhythm section -- the singing unapologetically theatrical. Rose sounds alternatively like a grownup Brenda Lee or a still-horny Wanda Jackson, whether she's enveloping the Peggy Lee cult-throb classic "Johnny Guitar," the Patsy Cline gem "Stop, Look and Listen" or a sharply penned original like "All Is Gone," in which a Mexicali accordion -- courtesy of husband Fats Kaplin -- waltzes with guitar, bass and hand percussion for a rare, sober break from the dancing-and-drinking mood. Rose's voice is capable of just about anything: long operatic notes, pinup-girl pouting, cabaret desperation, dead-on Western swing and ecstatic rockabilly. With such a singer, the band could easily settle into three-chord, 4/4 country, and sometimes they do, as on the effortlessly pure country "Cheater's World." But if Rose doesn't shoot straight for long, her aim is almost always true. Fans of Neko Case and Kelly Hogan should not miss this show.