A little Googling reveals that the Whiskey Ring was an 1875 scandal that involved several politicians making millions off of federal liquor taxes — a scandal that began right here in St. Louis. There is no such conspiracy or intrigue behind St. Louis' other Whiskey Ring, a quartet with a penchant for Rust Belt rock and tear-stained Americana. To say that Peter McCoy leads the band would be a bit misleading; his voice is quiet, tentative and rarely on key, and too often it gets pushed aside by the big-sky guitars. The album begins with the shuffling, reverberating "As Big As Life," and it's nearly impossible to miss the influence of Bright Eyes. Like Conor Oberst, McCoy can seethe and warble, but where Oberst can rise above the din and take command with a howl or a well-turned lyric (or both), McCoy lacks the presence to shape these enjoyable but indistinct alt-country tunes. The slowed-down balladry of "Nouns" fares better, as McCoy doesn't have to struggle to be heard over the discordant acoustic guitar strums. The next track "Old Friends" injects some swagger and attitude alongside buzzsaw guitars. McCoy struggles to connect on much of Better than Some, Worse than Others, but the rest of the band nails the earnest, twangy sound of heartland rock & roll. "Bent All Out of Shape" muscles along like a great lost Replacements track, with jangly guitar arpeggios giving way to simple and satisfying stop-start chords. The background vocals sound like they were shouted from across the basement, and the song comes off as both raw and comfortable.
9 p.m. Friday, May 16. The Bluebird, 2706 Olive Street. $7 21-plus, $10 under 21. No phone. www.myspace.com/bluebirdstl. 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.