The 10-year anniversary of No Depression magazine notwithstanding, "Americana" doesn't mean much these days. The once genuine genre has been polluted by too many whiskey-swilling college bands and Lucinda Williams wannabes. It's a fringe scene now that every joker clad in a flannel shirt has thrown his guitar pick in the mix.
Former Memphian Mark Lemhouse might wear flannel, but he's tapping into that supreme power that lesser players can only dream about. Check The Great American Yard Sale, his sophomore album, which was partially recorded here at Scott Bomar's Electraphonic Recording and finished at Wavelength Studios in Oregon.
Lemhouse opens with a dirge, "Scarlett," which touches on depression, suicide, and old age with all the analogies and drunken finesse of a Larry Brown novel. The schizophrenic "Paper Sack" comes next, circling and loping like a bullet-ridden cowboy staggering among the scenery in a spaghetti western. The banjo licks and stoned hollers on "Never Me" sound like an ancient Dock Boggs track, safely stored in an earthenware jar.
Lemhouse shines brightest on his modern story-songs, only occasionally veering into generic hokum. But when he hits, as on a restrained, countryish cover of the Kinks' "Nothin' in the World Can Stop Me Worryin' 'Bout That Girl," Lemhouse strikes pure gold. -- Andria Lisle
Mark Lemhouse plays the Hi-Tone Café Thursday, September 15th, with Jason Freeman. Doors open at 9 p.m.; admission is $5.