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Record Review 

One particularly effective strategy for making good country music is to keep it simple. Far too often, bands try to gussy up the sound with big production, overuse of extraneous instrumentation and vocal tracks tweaked to sterile perfection. On their debut CD, Missouri's finest trio, the Domino Kings, deliver a lesson on how to make a top-notch honky-tonk album. Nicely produced by studio whiz Lou Whitney, Life & 20 will take you back to an era when singers wore their hearts on their sleeves and laid their emotions on the line, so grab a cold one and listen up.

Thematically, there is no new ground being explored in the album's 14 tracks, but that's not meant as criticism. There always has been a sense of darkness and loss in country music, and on tunes such as "The End of You," "Borrow a Lie" and the title track, you know where the Kings are coming from. Stylistically, the influences are obvious -- Sun-era Johnny Cash, Lefty Frizzell and even a little Waylon Jennings here and there.

There are a slew of bands doing similar stuff right now -- the Derailers, the Hollisters and Dale Watson come to mind. And it's getting tougher to really establish a strong identity in the widening field. The Domino Kings don't really stand out above the crowd, but they certainly fit right in.

The Domino Kings play the Echo Lounge Fri., June 15.

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