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Boggs represents country music’s greatest hope

Though it’s become a standard target for critical blasting, not all of modern country music is bad.

Keith Urban turned in a rousing performance at the Grammy awards, Emmylou Harris really can do no wrong, and the same can be said about Lucinda Williams and Eric Brace of Last Train Home. Maybe I’m stretching the boundaries of “country” to include Americana and the more rocking side of twang, but you get my drift. And, not so surprisingly, most of the really good stuff is traveling safely below the CMT/international superstardom radar.

Reagan Boggs is one of those lucky artists who stands a chance of breaking into the pop/country market on her own terms and conditions. Smooth but still rocking, her album Never Looking Behind certainly stands apart in its slick but not overproduced sound (none of those “Shania the robot” bloops and bleeps), confident playing and well-conceived lyrics. Name-dropping John Prine in the opener “Share Them with You” doesn’t hurt things, either.

Boggs bucks the Nashville “singer but not the songwriter” stigma, loading Never Looking Behind with her own work, excluding the Jay Farrar penned “Tear Stained Eye,” the gentle “The Way I’m Lovin’ You” and a timely and rambunctious cover of “Jackson.” This version of “Jackson” has Boggs in duet mode with Scott Miller — and both have fun with the tune. Though they don’t try to emulate Johnny and June directly, the energy is there, and it’s loose in the best way.

Standout tracks would have to include “Share Them With You” in its perfectly layered arrangement (producer Eric Fritsch provides a gorgeous coating of electric and acoustic guitars for Boggs’ vocal and Al Perkins’ pedal steel to float over) and the surprisingly crunchy ”I Can’t Love You Anymore.” Adapting some family history for the lyrics in “Wrong Last Name” results in a haunting little waltz and some timeless country storytelling.

Though the CD is a little heavy on the ballads, the saving grace is they’re good ballads, like “Everything Here” and “Loose Change.” Tears? Beer? Tears in the beer? You bet.

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Boggs delivers her tunes in a comfortable, matter-of-fact voice that never resorts to grandstanding and doesn’t have to. There’s no faking the sound of knowing who you are as an artist, and there’s no need to throw a bunch of fancy goop on songs that don’t need it.

Like 2005’s excellent Bound Away from Last Train Home, Never Looking Behind is a thoughtful collection of songs that simply work and leave the listener hopeful that there are more artists out there interested in redeeming the country genre by simply being able to sound like themselves.

4 big ol’ stars.

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