As Heartbreakers-esque heartland rockers go, The Elms
aren't easy to like. They court the Contemporary Christian Music industry; their biggest hit, "Lifeboat," is a pile of pathetic mixed-metaphors; they're star-struck by almost-has-beens David Lowery and John Mellencamp; and they've (gulp) toured with Peter Frampton. But 2006's Chess Hotel
, their first record in four years, is a revelation and not of the evangelical type. Their faith is now in soul-influenced, classic guitar rock, like the Black Crowes with zero stoner factor or like Mellencamp himself, sans ripped-jeans strut. The Elms make their small-town stories big not by playing the bombast or gothic card, but by playing stripped-down, razor-straight rock & roll.