North Carolina’s Two Dollar Pistols make real country music, possessing an edge that will never get them close to the Grand Ole Opry or commercial country radio, yet is deeply rooted in the traditional sound of honky-tonk.
Step Right Up is a live recording that captures the Pistols in fine form. They’ve gone through a severe lineup change, with only vocalist/songwriter John Howie and fiddler Jon Kemppainen left from the original group that made their solid debut, On Down The Track. Here they’re joined, most notably, by Steve Howell, formerly of the Backsliders, on lead guitar, as well as John Neff of the Drive-By Truckers on pedal steel.
Recorded in front of an adoring crowd at Chapel Hill’s Local 506 nightclub, Step Right Up finds the Pistols mixing new material, a couple of tracks from their past recordings and some judiciously chosen covers into a two-steppin’ good time. Howie’s voice is distinctive for its gravely and deep tone that’s just perfect for classics from the songbooks of Buck Owens (“Hello Trouble”), George Jones (“You’re Still On My Mind”) and Faron Young (“Wine Me Up”). What’s remarkable is how his own compositions, such as the barroom weeper “‘Til You Did Wrong By Me”, the swing-inflected “Serious Heart Condition” and the high-energy “Bring The Heartbreak” are cut from the same cloth as those standards and stand up to repeated listenings.
If every night is like the one the Two Dollar Pistols chose to record this set, they have joined the upper echelon of bands playing country music today.