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Jason Fratesi and the Dirt Road Jam Band - Cryin' Out Loud

By: Corey Parkman

Last Updated: July 21, 2011 9:07 AM

Hailing from the humid flats of the Mississippi Delta, Jason Fratesi and the Dirt Road Band has a story you can really get behind. Lead singer Fratesi is a farmer and crop consultant who only started singing at the age of 18, after a well-received karaoke set. Bassist Lt. Ray Billman is about to ship off to Iraq for 400 days. All of them are family guys who still hold down 9-5's or attend school. They're big supporters of the military and frequently play charity events. What's not to dig about these guys?

On top of the great backstory, there's a ton of talent to root for. Cryin' Out Loud is an amazingly self-assured first effort that has Fratesi and crew bursting forth from the starting line, foregoing the potential of most debut albums for a fully realized sound rarely heard this early in a band's career.

Blending the neo-traditional sounds of 90's country acts like Ricky Van Shelton and Neal McCoy with the barroom blues of Delbert McClinton and the contemporary edge of the Zac Brown Band, Leland, Mississippi's Jason Fratesi and the Dirt Road Jam Band are firmly anchored to the roots of country music while presenting a thoroughly modern, radio-ready set of tunes.

The set opens with the rousing "Too Hot To Handle" which leans a little too heavily on tried-and-true bar rock imagery, but proves the band more than adept at stomping Stonesey numbers, even down to the gospel choir-like backing vocals.

The band gets slows things down for some soulful reflection on the next three tracks. "The Road I'm On" is a thoughtful rambler's lament. "Don't Say a Word" sounds like the best ballad Tracy Lawrence never recorded. Fratesi really shows off his vocal chops on this memorable track.

The self-written "Heart Cryin' Out Loud" is the undeniable centerpiece of the album, a gem of a "my woman done left me" song. It's bluesy and epic, yet intimate and moving at the same time. I'd count this heartbreaker as one of my favorite tracks of the year thus far.

Later on, Fratesi and the DRJB give us 3 interpretations of other artists' classic songs ­' maybe a bit many covers for a debut album, but none-the-less vital to the strength of this album. Taking on the Stones' "It's All Over Now," Delbert McClinton's "Every Time I Roll the Dice" and Bonnie Raitt's "Love Has No Pride," the guys prove themselves up to the task in each case. "Dice" especially suits the band's strengths.

"Thunderbird Crossway, Ferguson Road" closes the album with a "party in the country" anthem that doesn't fall into the trite trappings of recent hits of that ilk. It's a catchy tune that gives us a glimpse into how the guys let their hair down on the weekends. The song is so much fun, its rap breakdown in the middle is even forgivable, nay, enjoyable.

While it's hard to root against a homegrown band with such grit and talent, Jason Fratesi and the Dirt Road Jam Band prove they aren't just a nice story, they're a well-oiled machine of a band and a force to be reckoned with. Cryin' Out Loud is a thoroughly impressive opening volley from a band with a lot of miles, and hopefully a lot of recognition, ahead of them.

Buy: Amazon

Corey Parkman is a guest contributor to Roughstock.com and runs his own humor-themed website Farce The Music.

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