In many ways, Are Men, the second album from the Weight, is really a debut. Bandleader Joseph Plunkett started out as a one-man acoustic act and then started gigging with a revolving set of session musicians. Before long, Plunkett settled on a more permanent lineup for the band, and they began to shift from the earnest, mannered alt-country of 2004’s 10 Mile Grace to a sound that owes more to ’70s honky-tonk rock than No Depression dissection. The Weight’s transition from philosophers of Americana to funky outlaws is mostly successful, offering all the party and very little stolid introspection.
Though the artistic impact of the alt-country movement is undeniable, many of its proponents have leaned toward the portentous end of the country spectrum, focusing on apocalyptic dustbowl visions and bleak descriptions of love gone wrong. While these themes form an important foundation of country music, the Friday night music heard in bars is often, simpler, rowdier and less concerned with introspection. There are still twinges of heartbreak, but it is trumped by massive quantities of beer and a shouted lyric.
Are Men exists in this region of country music. Its ten songs are at once homage to the work of Waylon Jennings and David Allen Coe and a counterpoint to the studied seriousness of alternative country music. “Johnny’s Song” and “You’re Gonna Like Me Better” sound retro but not dated, and highlight the album’s loose swagger, which always sounds a second away from imploding into anarchy.
Plunkett harnesses this energy, and what he misses in depth of lyrics is more than recovered in filthy guitar licks, carefully added piano lines, and sing-along choruses. The Weight ably explore a different end of the country music spectrum, showing there’s more than one way to deal with a cheating wife and wrecked pick-up truck.