"Better days are coming soon," promises W.C. Beck on this set of purist country tunes, though what he really means to say is that the best days—for country music, anyway—are long behind us. Over a breezy acoustic shuffle, the 29-year-old singer-songwriter laments the current state of the industry, arguing—in his warm, exagerrated twang—that country lost its way when it abandoned the "outworn highways" of Texas and Tennessee. Never mind that Beck lives in Portland, and is originally from Kansas.
On his previous albums, Beck put a personalized stamp on old-time folkiness. But too often on Quivira, he sounds like he's scootin' in someone else's boots. Abetted by the Portland Country Underground, an all-star team of LaurelThirst regulars, the album features whip-sharp playing, but only a few songs feel truly lived-in. Beck pairs well with Sara Catherine Wheatley, whose stage-trained voice powers the "love in times of low-income" swinger "Doctor." Twinkling ballads like "Good Enough Ain't Good Enough" acquit Beck the best. But the barn-rocking rave-ups ("I Gotta Sing," the Cajun-flavored "Nouvelle Orleans") are too controlled to really shake the house down. And while the lighthearted misogyny of "Real Woman" might be in jest, it's just not a great look. Beck's effort to reclaim country's soul is commendable, but it can't help seeming a bit like a masquerade.
SEE IT: W.C. Beck and the Portland Country Underground play Alberta Street Pub, 1036 NE Alberta St., with Barna Howard, on Friday, July 26. 8 pm. $10. 21+.